- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 12, 2008

HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) — Two state correctional officers who were among 25 recently fired in a brutality investigation have been exonerated and reinstated, the state prison agency said yesterday.

They were fired within the 30 days that state agencies have to take disciplinary action after learning of purported misconduct, Division of Correction spokesman Mark Vernarelli said. Afterward, “information came out exonerating these two officers,” he said.

Mr. Vernarelli said the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services then took immediate action to bring the unidentified officers back to work at the medium-security Roxbury Correctional Institution with no loss of state service time.

Joe Lawrence, a spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said the reversals prove that agency leaders had rushed to judgment.

“What is for certain is that AFSCME’s charge that these firings were premature has proven to be true and that the state had not fully conducted its investigation before firing these officers,” Mr. Lawrence said.

The men were among nine fired at Roxbury on April 4, Mr. Lawrence said. Since then, eight more have been fired at Roxbury and eight have been dismissed at the maximum-security North Branch Correctional Institution near Cumberland, Md.

Neither Mr. Lawrence nor Mr. Vernarelli would discuss the specific allegations that prompted the men’s dismissal. Mr. Lawrence said they were reinstated on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The firings stemmed from claims that officers used excessive force against as many as seven inmates transferred from Roxbury to North Branch after fighting with Roxbury guards on March 6, and against a Roxbury inmate on the weekend of March 8. State prison officials have said the incidents appear unrelated.

A criminal investigation at both institutions, led by Maryland State Police, is continuing, Public Safety Secretary Gary Maynard said Thursday. None of the unidentified officers has been charged.

Labor leaders have called the investigations haphazard and said the firings have demoralized prison workers and unfairly punished officers.

News of the investigations also has unsettled inmates and their families, said Kimberly Haven, director of Justice Maryland, a Baltimore-based prison rights group. She said letters and phone calls to her organization alleging brutality against prisoners has increased sharply since the state announced the investigation on March 13. Miss Haven said her group is trying to match credible complaints to the brutality probe.

“What’s concerning me is the level of anxiety that is clearly apparent from an inmate and family perspective,” she said.

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