- The Washington Times - Friday, February 25, 2005

HAGERSTOWN (AP) — A correctional officer who was fired after the strangling of an inmate aboard a prison bus says he saw the suspect in the killing move from his seat and sit next to the victim during the trip.

But Robert Scott, who filed an appeal on his dismissal yesterday, said he followed procedures and isn’t at fault for the slaying of Philip E. Parker Jr.

“I was alert, paying attention and doing my job,” he said Thursday.

Mr. Scott was seated with another officer in a protective cage at the back of the bus less than 10 feet from where Parker was strangled by another prisoner as the bus traveled from Hagerstown to Baltimore on Feb. 2.

Mr. Scott said he noticed Kevin G. Johns Jr., who has emerged as a suspect in the killing, move from his seat behind Parker to sit beside him. Mr. Scott said he phoned officers at the front of the bus to report it.

Inmates are transported in three-piece restraints of handcuffs, leg irons and waist chains, and are not supposed to change seats or move around while the bus is in transit.

Mr. Scott said the officers in front turned on the overhead lights and asked Mr. Scott whether he could see anything more, but several lights were broken; even with his flashlightit was impossible to see what was happening.

Mr. Scott, 32, who has worked in corrections for nine years and made $14 an hour, said he got no further instructions.

In any event, he said, officers are not permitted by policy to leave their cages and enter the cabin with prisoners because of safety concerns; nor could the bus pull over and stop.

Mr. Scott said the dim lighting, the roar of the engine and the rattling noises of the bus prevented him and the other officer from noticing anything was seriously wrong. And there was no indication from any inmates seated nearby that anything was seriously wrong, he said.

Mr. Scott said Parker’s attacker might have been able to strangle him quickly, if he used his waist chain, which would muffle any sound and limit signs of disruption.

Prison officials have taken disciplinary action against all five officers on the bus.

Mr. Scott, the officer with him at the rear of the bus and an officer who was in the front compartment were fired. Of the other two, one received a five-day suspension, and the other received a written reprimand.

Parker, 20, was among 35 inmates on the bus.

Johns, 22, a twice-convicted murderer, had told a judge the day before that he was likely to kill again if he didn’t get psychiatric help. Johns should not have been seated with Parker at the rear of the bus, according to state policy on the transport of prisoners.

The front of the bus has wire mesh cages that can be used to isolate especially dangerous prisoners from other inmates.

Mr. Scott said officers on the bus were not told of Johns’ threat in court or that Parker and other inmates on the bus had testified at his sentencing hearing. If they had been told of that fact, he said, Johns would have been segregated.

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