Prison corruption cited

The Baltimore Sun

Twenty-one prison guards at the Maryland House of Correction were implicated in contraband smuggling and other corrupt activities in state police reports given to defense lawyers for two inmates accused of killing a corrections officer at the now-closed facility.

The allegations of widespread corruption at the House of Correction were made yesterday at a court hearing in Annapolis as defense lawyers argued that the state should be forced to provide them with personnel and disciplinary records of the corrections officers.

Mary Jo Livingston, an attorney for Lamarr Harris, one of the two inmates accused of killing Officer David McGuinn, said that the 21 guards were named by state police investigating McGuinn's death. Their identities have not been publicly disclosed.

She said the integrity and credibility of the corrections officers is important to the defense's case because the officers controlled the crime scene at the prison before state police arrived to investigate McGuinn's death.

State police "did not find any physical evidence at the scene that directly links Mr. Harris to the crime. The only physical evidence was removed from the scene of the crime" by corrections officers, Livingston said.

State corrections officials agreed at the hearing before Judge Paul Hackner to provide the defense with data on violent assaults at the prison and certain other records. But a decision on the personnel records was delayed for further discussion at a hearing March 18.

Livingston signaled at the hearing that defense lawyers intend to build a key part of their defense of Harris and another inmate, Lee Stephens, around the corrupt environment that existed at the prison. It was closed a few months after Gov. Martin O'Malley took office.

"We're not going to have any comment on the current proceedings," said Rick Binetti, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. "But the O'Malley administration took decisive action to close the prison and has made it a priority to step up staff security and contraband interdiction efforts across the system."

Harris and Stephens appeared in court amid heavy security. Stephens was removed from three-piece restraints and handcuffs while in the courtroom, but Harris, who attempted an escape from a Baltimore hospital last week, remained in full restraints. Neither he nor Stephens, who sat with his head bowed, his face mostly hidden by locks of his braided hair, spoke during the hearing.

At the hearing, Livingston said the state had allowed the prison to lapse into "anarchy," creating an environment where corruption flourished and where no one was safe. She said those conditions led to McGuinn's death on July 25, 2006.

"It fueled the violence and is relevant because that is the environment in which Mr. Harris had to survive," Livingston said.

A witness told state police that corrupt guards involved in contraband smuggling "ordered the hit" on McGuinn, according to a legal motion filed by defense lawyers for Harris. The motion does not identify the witness or say whether the person was an inmate, corrections officer or someone else.

The hearing also focused on a defense motion seeking all records related to a homemade knife that is considered to be potential evidence in McGuinn's killing.

The shank was initially found in a rear catwalk area near where McGuinn was killed, according to documents obtained by The Sun. But it was accidentally knocked off the tier by a crime scene investigator and was missing. It turned up two days later, tagged as having been found on an inmate during a strip search.

In internal reports, police and corrections investigators said it appeared the knife had been planted on an inmate to cover for the beating of an inmate by guards the afternoon of McGuinn's death.

The stabbing of McGuinn - who was the second correctional officer to be killed in 2006 - sent shock waves through the prison system and was a factor in the decision to shut the outdated Jessup facility. It closed last March.

greg.garland@baltsun.com

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