- The Washington Times - Friday, January 27, 2006

HAGERSTOWN, Md. — A state correctional officer who was critically wounded when a hospitalized inmate somehow got his gun did nothing wrong, the prison agency said yesterday.

With Officer Jeffery Alan Wroten still fighting for life a day after the shooting, Division of Correction spokeswoman Maj. Priscilla Doggett said prison authorities don’t think he violated any policies while guarding Brandon Morris at Washington County Hospital.

“We have no information and no indication that the staff person was at fault,” Maj. Doggett said.

Maryland State Police Sgt. Thornnie Rouse, whose agency is leading the investigation, said it would be premature for him to comment on any aspect of the probe until it is completed. Investigators from the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, which includes the Division of Correction, are assisting in the inquiry.

Officer Wroten, 44, of Martinsburg, W.Va., was shot in the face about 5 a.m. Thursday while guarding Morris, an inmate at the nearby, medium-security Roxbury Correctional Institution. Morris, 20, was serving an eight-year sentence for assault, robbery and handgun convictions in Baltimore.

Morris had been admitted to the hospital Wednesday after complaining of an undisclosed medical condition. After the shooting, he forced a cabbie at gunpoint to drive him on a chase that ended with the inmate’s arrest, state police and prison officials say.

Morris has been moved to the maximum-security Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center, also known as Supermax, in Baltimore, Maj. Doggett said.

Prison and hospital authorities refused to discuss Officer Wroten’s condition except to say he was in critical condition. He is being treated at the same hospital where he was shot.

Prison policy requires that inmates be attached to their beds by either handcuffs or leg restraints while staying in the hospital. But officers sometimes adjust or temporarily remove the restraints at the request of doctors and nurses for medical reasons or so the inmate can use the bathroom, according to prison and hospital workers.

Co-workers described Officer Wroten as a dedicated worker and loving father of five children, ages 5 to 15. He is separated from his wife, co-workers said.

Before joining the Maryland Division of Correction about four years ago, Officer Wroten worked for state prison agencies in Florida and West Virginia, where he was an officer trainer, Maj. Doggett said.

About 200 current and retired workers from the three prisons near Hagerstown gathered outside the hospital’s main entrance at sundown yesterday for a candlelight prayer vigil.

The shooting has prompted debate about security for prisoners at public hospitals. State prison policies require two armed officers to escort inmates to and from hospitals, but just one to stand guard once an inmate is admitted.

“I still think there should be two officers,” said Ronald Smith, a labor relations specialist with the Maryland Classified Employees Association, one of several unions representing Maryland correctional workers.

“That way, the backup officer could assist” in an emergency, he said.

But Lt. John L. Beair of the Roxbury prison disagreed: “If you could have had two officers in there, then you should have had three; if you’d had three, then you should have had four; if you’d had five, you should have had 10.”

Lt. Beair said Roxbury’s management has asked the Washington County Health System to include a secure “custody ward” for inmates in a proposed new hospital in Hagerstown. Such a ward exists at the University of Maryland Hospital in Baltimore, he said.

Hospital spokeswoman Maureen Theriault said she wasn’t aware of such a request. She said at least 120 state or local prisoners were admitted to the hospital last year.

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