- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 23, 2005

HAGERSTOWN, Md. — The state fired three correctional officers yesterday, three weeks after an inmate was strangled aboard a prison bus.

A fourth officer was suspended for five days and a fifth was reprimanded, the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services said.

The agency also said it plans to install surveillance cameras and change the interior layout of Division of Correction vehicles to improve security.

The department said it is implementing five other changes in transport procedures. They include requiring officers to recheck inmate restraints upon boarding and to contact their home base more often while traveling.

The changes also require interior lights to be on whenever the headlights are on, and they ban playing of music.

Finally, the transportation staff will receive additional monthly training in policies and procedures.

All the changes are aimed at enhancing security, Division of Correction spokeswoman Priscilla Doggett said.

She would not identify the disciplined officers. Correctional officers’ union officials didn’t immediately return calls seeking comment.

A Baltimore County grand jury will hear evidence March 7 in the strangulation of a state prison inmate aboard a Division of Correction bus, a prosecutor said yesterday.

Assistant State’s Attorney S. Ann Brobst said she will seek an indictment charging one or more persons in the Feb. 2 death of Philip E. Parker Jr., 20, of Baltimore. She said the closed-door proceeding in Towson likely will conclude in one day.

Prison officials say Parker, who was serving 31/2 years for unarmed robbery and a weapons violation, was killed by one or more inmates aboard a bus carrying 35 prisoners in handcuffs and leg irons, plus five armed correctional officers, from the state prison complex near Hagerstown to correctional institutions in the Baltimore area.

Prison officials have not named any suspects in the case, but investigators have focused on Kevin G. Johns Jr., 22, a twice-convicted murderer who told a judge the day before the slaying that he likely would kill again.

Miss Brobst said she received a 51/2-inch file Tuesday from the state Department of Safety and Correctional Services, making up the bulk of its internal investigation into Parker’s death.

“We have been informed there will be additional paperwork supplied in the future,” she said.

Separately yesterday, a correctional officers union official blamed “a breakdown in the chain of command” for Johns’ being seated in the rear of the bus near Parker.

Guards in the vehicle weren’t told about Johns’ threat, which would have prompted them to place him in a separate, caged section near the front of the passenger compartment in accordance with Division of Correction policies, said Ed Rothstein, a board member of the Maryland Association of Correctional and Security Employees.

The policy, obtained by the Associated Press under Maryland’s Freedom of Information Act, states: “All inmates identified as security alerts or who require special handling shall be noted. These inmates will be seated in the front compartment of the transport vehicle.”

Johns’ threat “absolutely” should have triggered the provision, Mr. Rothstein said. “I don’t know what supervision was thinking, but officers should have been notified of that fact.”

Parker was strangled, like Johns’ two previous victims, according to the state Medical Examiner’s Office.

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