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5 correctional officers acquitted

The Baltimore Sun

Five state correctional officers have been acquitted by an Anne Arundel County jury of criminally assaulting an inmate.

Prosecutors had accused Officers Naron Dyer Sr., 28, and Antoine Fordham, 22; Sgts. Berkeley Ghee, 32, and Keith Randolph, 35; and Capt. Manuel Williams, 36, of excessively beating inmate Bradford Matthews on July 27, 2006, to "teach him a lesson and show him who's boss" when he refused to comply with orders.

Matthews' injuries - including hearing loss and two black eyes - went beyond necessary force, prosecutor Anne Colt Leitess said.

Defense attorneys argued that the injuries were the result of reasonable force used to calm an unruly inmate. They cast Matthews as a dangerous convict who made knives and was a member of a prison gang.

The jury took about three hours to deliver the verdicts Tuesday night.

"The defendants are very relieved that they could get back to their families and back to their work without a criminal matter hanging over their heads," said defense attorney Paul R. Kramer, who represented Williams. "Everyone is quite happy."

Leitess had described the case - a rare prosecution of correctional officers - as being as complex as any murder trial. It pitted her against five defense attorneys, each of whom got to cross-examine witnesses and deliver opening statements and closing arguments.

"While we are disappointed with the verdict, we knew going into the trial the challenges we faced," said Kristin Fleckenstein, a spokeswoman for the Anne Arundel County state's attorney's office.

The prosecution's case intertwined the assaults with the investigation into the killing of corrections officer David W. McGuinn, who had been stabbed a day earlier at the now-closed Maryland House of Correction. The five officers, who worked at the Jessup Correctional Institution, had been called in to the House of Correction to transport inmates from the segregation tier to another facility.

A knife said to have been recovered by officers from Matthews after the beating had been documented in a different part of the prison as possibly being the weapon with which McGuinn was killed. Prosecutors had said the knife was planted on Matthews to justify his beating.

Defense attorneys said the knife was mixed up with others recovered that day. Capt. Edward Tames testified for the defense that he had been given three knives and gave the wrong one back to Fordham, who logged it into an evidence locker.

"The knife issue was a red herring, and the state was trying to get a square peg through a round hole," said Kramer, the defense attorney. "I think the jury saw that the knife didn't matter. The issue is whether they used excessive force, and they found that the officers didn't."

Three of the five corrections officers testified during the trial. The defense attorneys tried their cases together, but the jury was required to judge the defendants individually.

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