- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 28, 2006

HAGERSTOWN, Md. — A Maryland correctional officer who was shot while guarding a hospitalized inmate died Friday, state prison officials said.

A spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services said yesterday the announcement about the death of Officer Jeffery Alan Wroten, 44, was delayed until family members could be notified. She would not release the time of death.

Frank C. Sizer Jr., the agency’s commissioner, said Officer Wroten “fought gallantly for his life but lost the battle.” He also said Officer Wroten, of Martinsburg, W.Va., was a “dedicated professional who enjoyed his work as a correctional officer and who paid the ultimate sacrifice.”

Officer Wroten, a father of five, who worked at the nearby Roxbury Correctional Institution, was shot in the face with is own gun Thursday at about 5 a.m. while guarding Brandon Morris at Washington County Hospital in Hagerstown.

Morris, 20, was serving an eight-year sentence for assault, robbery and handgun convictions in Baltimore.

He purportedly forced a cab driver at gunpoint to drive him away from the shooting. Morris was later caught and arrested. He has been moved to the maximum-security Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center, commonly called Supermax, in Baltimore, while state police and the prison agency investigate the case.

Mr. Sizer said he considers Officer Wroten’s slaying a capital offense. In Maryland, the death penalty is reserved for cases of first-degree murder, either premeditated or during the commission of a felony.

Morris had been admitted to the hospital Wednesday for an injury that prison officials have not disclosed. The Baltimore Sun reported that Mary Ann Saar, secretary of the state’s Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said it was a self-inflicted wound — a needle stabbed into his chest. Mr. Sizer and Mrs. Saar’s spokesman, Mark Vernarelli, said they could not verify the report.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. issued a statement of condolence to Officer Wroten’s family and praised the officer as “a pillar of strength to others, always willing to lend a helping hand to those in need.” Mr. Ehrlich ordered state flags to be flown at half-staff until after Officer Wroten’s burial. Funeral arrangements were incomplete yesterday.

Officer Wroten’s family allowed his organs to be harvested for transplant, an unidentified sister said in a brief statement relayed by Priscilla Doggett, a spokeswoman for the prison agency. “Jeffery is my hero, and this is the best way to honor him,” she said. It was the family’s only public comment on Officer Wroten’s death.

The shooting prompted correctional officers’ unions to demand Mrs. Saar’s ouster and a review of security policies for hospitalized inmates, including a rule that just one officer stand guard instead of two.

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