- The Washington Times - Monday, May 16, 2005

BALTIMORE — Six correctional officers were placed on administrative leave yesterday as authorities investigated the slaying of an inmate who got into an argument with officers in an overcrowded jail, officials said.

Raymond Smoot, 52, died Saturday after being “beaten and stomped while in his cell by a number of officers” at the Baltimore Central Booking and Intake Center, Smoot family attorney Warren Brown said.

“It’ll be clear that this institution is operating with an absence of rules and regulations on how to deal with these types of procedures,” Mr. Brown said.

Mark Vernarelli, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, declined to go into detail about the death, saying the investigation limited what he could say, adding that more than 100 interviews had been conducted.

“Because of the number of people involved and because of the number of investigators assigned to the case, anything that I say could only jeopardize it at this point,” Mr. Vernarelli said.

William Smith, commissioner of the Division of Pretrial Detention and Services, said Mr. Smoot had a small history of disciplinary problems at the facility, where he has been confined before for petty crimes.

The incident apparently occurredwhen Mr. Smoot refused to go into his cell, Mr. Vernarelli said.

“And at that point, when the officer called for backup, there was an altercation,” he said.

Relatives gathered at the jail yesterday, tearfully searching for answers and meeting with Mr. Brown. Delvonna Smoot, a niece who saw the body, said her uncle’s face was horribly bruised and bloody.

“My uncle’s face was like, shifted,” she said. “The doctors said they’ve never seen another human being beat somebody as bad as they beat my uncle, never.”

State Sen. Verna Jones, Baltimore Democrat, called for a comprehensive investigation by the state to address problems at central booking, saying 27 persons have died at the jail since 2002.

Mr. Smoot had been in the facility since May 4 on theft charges, Mr. Vernarelli said.

He had been scheduled for a hearing Sept. 14 in Baltimore District Court on a felony theft charge, according to court records.

A warrant was issued when he failed to appear, and he was arrested on that warrant May 4. He was scheduled to go to trial June 2 and initially held on $5,000 bail, which was later reduced.

The state-run facility has been condemned by lawyers and civil rights groups for unhealthy and dangerous conditions.

People arrested in Baltimore are brought to central booking to be identified, fingerprinted and photographed before they have a hearing before a court commissioner. Opened in 1995, it was designed to process up to 45,000 people a year. Last year, about 100,000 people were processed.

The overwhelming number of arrests handled at the center has caused delays, prompting the facility to regularly violate the law by keeping inmates longer than 24 hours without a court hearing.

Last month, a judge ordered that all detainees held longer than 24 hours be set free. The order was extended last week to last for six months while officials try to address the problem.

It was not clear how many officers were involved in the Smoot incident, but “if any wrongdoing is found, it will be dealt with swiftly and to the fullest extent of the law,” Mr. Vernarelli said.

The altercation involved 25 to 30 guards, said Archer Blackwell, a senior staff representative with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

“The details are very sketchy, and there is, of course, a great deal of reluctance to say anything at this point,” Mr. Blackwell said. “He may have been acting out, which is not uncommon. And the officers, when summoned to a disturbance or an inmate who acts unruly, their job is to try to restrain them.”

Mr. Smoot’s bail was reset at $1,000, his niece said. Relatives had planned to pay the 10 percent or $100 needed to get him released yesterday, Miss Smoot said.

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