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Is state anxious to shut door on 2 court guards?


What do we do with the two guards who were on duty when Dontay Carter escaped through a courthouse bathroom window?

"Whoever is responsible for this should be raked across the coals," a state senator suggested the day after the blunder.

Others just wanted the men fired.

The guards, Frank Beales and Irvin Curtis, have already been suspended without pay from their less-than-$30,000-a-year state jobs. And come Monday, the state will argue before an administrative law judge that they should get the ax.

To refresh memories: Dontay Carter, the convicted kidnapper and killer, escaped unshackled through the bathroom window in Judge John N. Prevas' chambers at the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse in January. The community was shocked and outraged.

The governor demanded an investigation and said that, if found negligent, the men responsible for guarding Carter should be fired.

While public sentiment probably runs against Beales and Curtis, fueled largely by the notoriety of their prisoner, there remains a dispute over events leading to Carter's escape. For instance, the guards' lawyers, veteran criminal defense attorneys Jack Rubin and Leslie A. Stein, claim it was the hurry-up atmosphere of Prevas' court that contributed to the mistake. "The tension, the expediency created an atmosphere in that courtroom like none you've ever seen," Rubin has said.

And Prevas has acknowledged that, for years, he allowed prisoners to use his bathroom to save time and to keep prisoners out of public hallways. But he has said he could not recall whether he or the officers broached the idea of taking Carter pTC there. The state has argued that it was Beales and Curtis who requested the use of the judge's bathroom for Carter.

So this might not be simply a case of two guards making a mistake.

Which explains, in part, the sensitive political nature of the Dontay Carter escape. And that might explain why the state appears quite anxious to close the door on Beales and Curtis. Consider as an example of this zeal a memo that went out from the attorney general's office on May 4.

In it, Joan L. Bossmann, the assistant attorney general assigned to the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, advised "all correctional officers in the Transportation Unit" who might be subpoenaed to testify in the case "not to talk with Beales, Curtis or their lawyers until they have first talked with" their supervisor and Bossmann.

The memo said correctional officers in the unit responsible for transporting prisoners "must advise [their supervisor] and me immediately if they are approached by Curtis, Beales or their lawyers."

Was this an attempt to sway potential witnesses? Lawyers for Beales and Curtis certainly saw it that way. A veteran trial attorney with no connection to the Beales-Curtis case read the May 4 memo and reacted with one word: "Unbelievable."

Apprised of the memo by this columnist this week, Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. expressed his displeasure with it. "She just went too far," Curran said of Bossmann. He instructed her to "rescind and correct" her earlier memo and issue a new one.

The new one, released yesterday, says: "We should not do anything to discourage any person from being a witness for whomever he/she chooses. In this regard, I regret the tone of my prior memo. All officers should be advised of their right to testify as they deem appropriate and be assured that no adverse consequences will flow from their testifying in these or other cases."

The new memo did not seem to diminish the outrage of the attorneys for the suspended guards. "The ink is in the milk, and you can't get it out," said Stein. Rubin said the May 4 memo indicated "paranoia and arrogance" on the part of the state. Both attorneys said they believed Bossmann's earlier memo could have had a chilling effect on witnesses whose testimony would benefit Beales and Curtis.

Curran said he hoped no witnesses had been discouraged by the May 4 memo and that the new one would set the record straight.

Hey, everyone makes mistakes, right?


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