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Baltimore detainee dead after struggle with guards

Discussion in 'Legal' started by Vernal45, May 16, 2005.

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  1. Vernal45

    Vernal45 member

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    Baltimore detainee dead after struggle with guards


    BALTIMORE, Maryland (AP) -- A detainee at the Baltimore Central Booking and Intake Center died after a struggle with guards, and an investigation has been launched, officials said.

    Family members say Raymond Smoot, 52, was beaten to death.

    An officer had trouble getting Smoot back in his cell Saturday evening and called for backup, Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services spokesman Mark Vernarelli said. Smoot was injured in the ensuing struggle and taken to Johns Hopkins Hospital, where he died.

    The department's internal investigation unit and state investigators are looking into the death, and the State's Attorney's Office has been notified, Vernarelli said.

    "If any wrongdoing is found it will be dealt with swiftly and to the fullest extent of the law," Vernarelli said.

    The altercation involved 25 to 30 guards, but details were sketchy, according to Archer Blackwell, a senior staff representative with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

    Hopkins officials called relatives Saturday night and family members assembled at the hospital.

    Delvonna Smoot, Raymond Smoot's niece, said staff at the hospital told family members that her uncle had been beaten "savagely."

    "We just want to find out what actually happened to my uncle," she said.

    The hospital confirmed the death but gave no details.

    Smoot had been in Central Booking since May 4, when he was arrested on a warrant alleging that he had failed to appear for a hearing on a theft charge last September.

    This incident is the latest trouble for the crowded booking center. Last month, a judge ordered it to release inmates who do not receive a court hearing within 24 hours of their arrest, as required by law. People had been detained there for up to four days without a hearing.
     
  2. Alex45ACP

    Alex45ACP Member

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    Unacceptable.
     
  3. JohnBT

    JohnBT Member

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    I just did a little googling on Baltimore Central Booking. They've been running at 2x capacity.

    The following is scary:

    "May 1, 2005 - The Baltimore Sun (MD)
    Inside City's Booking Center, There's Far Too Much Company
    Conditions Are Deplorable, and Worse
    By Ryan Davis, Sun Staff

    Crammed for hours inside a concrete room at Baltimore's booking center, the men awaiting court hearings jockey for space on the floor.

    The air is thick and foul, so they covet the patch of floor by the sliding steel door. There, inmates put their cheeks to the floor to suck fresh air through the crack beneath the door.

    "When I couldn't have that spot," said Henry Thiess, who was arrested last Sunday on assault charges, "I laid under the toilet so I didn't have to worry about being stepped on.""
     
  4. Jeff White

    Jeff White Moderator Staff Member

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    Maryland DOC doesn't have standards for local and county lockups?? I smell a nice fat federal lawsuit. I think that the politicians who refused to spend money to keep their holding facilities to a decent stanard should pay the settlement out of their pocket...

    Jeff
     
  5. Vernal45

    Vernal45 member

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    I agree. Good idea
     
  6. dev_null

    dev_null Member

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    > The altercation involved 25 to 30 guards

    For one guy? Seems to me there's a point of diminishing returns when only the first dozen can actually lay a hand on him.
     
  7. molonlabe

    molonlabe Member

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    Latest Update

    6 officers suspended in fatal beating

    Laywer faults excessive force; State senator calls for task force to review problems at Central Booking; Medical examiner rules prisoner's death a homicide



    By Brian Witte
    The Associated Press

    May 16, 2005, 4:53 PM EDT

    Six correctional officers were placed on administrative leave today as authorities investigated the slaying of an inmate who got into an argument with officers in an overcrowded jail, officials said.

    Raymond Smoot, 52, died Saturday after being "beaten and stomped while in his cell by a number of officers," said attorney Warren Brown, who is representing one the victim's family members. His death was ruled a homicide today by the state medical examiner's office. Brown said correctional officers used excessive force and beat Smoot to death, but corrections officials declined to comment on what caused his death.

    "It'll be clear that this institution is operating with an absence of rules and regulations on how to deal with these types of procedures," Brown said.

    Mark Vernarelli, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, declined to go into much detail about the killing, saying the investigation limited him in what he could say. He said more than 100 interviews had been conducted.

    "Because of the number of people involved and because of the number of investigators assigned to the case, anything that I say could only jeopardize it at this point," Vernarelli said.

    William Smith, commissioner of the Division of Pretrial Detention and Services, said Smoot had a small history of disciplinary problems at the facility, where he has been confined before for petty crimes.

    The incident apparently happened when Smoot refused to go into his cell, Vernarelli said.

    "And at that point, when the officer called for backup, there was an altercation," Vernarelli said.

    Meanwhile, state Sen. Verna Jones called for a task force to study ongoing problems at the Baltimore Central Booking and Intake Center, saying 38 people have died at the jail since 2002.

    The state-run facility has been condemned by attorneys and civil rights groups for horribly unhealthy and dangerous conditions. People arrested in Baltimore are brought to central booking to be identified, fingerprinted and photographed before they have a hearing before a court commissioner. Opened in 1995, the facility was designed to process up to 45,000 people a year. Last year, about 100,000 people were processed through central booking.

    State officials said more than 100 interviews have been conducted, and the investigation was continuing. The department's internal investigation unit is leading a probe into Smoot's death with the help of state police investigators, and the city's State's Attorney's Office has been notified, Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services spokesman Mark Vernarelli said.

    Relatives gathered at the jail today, tearfully searching for answers and meeting with Brown. Delvonna Smoot, a niece who saw the body, said her uncle's face was horribly bruised and bloody.

    "My uncle's face was like, shifted," she said. "The doctors said they've never seen another human being beat somebody as bad as they beat my uncle, never."

    Smoot had been in the facility since May 4 on theft charges, Vernarelli said.

    He had been scheduled for a hearing Sept. 14 in Baltimore District Court on a felony theft charge, according to court records. A warrant was issued when he failed to appear and he was arrested on that warrant May 4. He was scheduled to go to trial on June 2 and initially held on $5,000 bail, which was later reduced.

    The overwhelming number of arrests handled at the center has caused delays, leading it to regularly violate the law by keeping inmates longer than 24 hours without a court hearing. Last month, a judge ordered that all inmates held longer than 24 hours set free. The order was extended last week to last for six months while officials try to address the problem.

    Attorneys describe horrendous conditions inside. Cells designed to hold five to eight people are frequently jammed with as many as 18. Worn-out bodies are clumped side-by-side. Some nap under toilets. Others are forced to stand for hours next to drug addicts who shake convulsively as they involuntarily begin withdrawal. Sick people without medications get sicker, sometimes vomiting on others.

    The Public Justice Center, a Baltimore nonprofit group, has filed a legal brief supporting reforms. The group contends people with serious medical needs, including HIV infection, hepatitis, mental illness, diabetes and tuberculosis, often receive no medical care for several days at central booking.

    Sally Dworak-Fisher, an attorney with the group, described the facility as "a tinder box."

    "It strikes me that there was an atmosphere of fear in the facility because of the overcrowding," she said.

    It was not clear how many officers were involved in the incident, but "if any wrongdoing is found it will be dealt with swiftly and to the fullest extent of the law," Vernarelli said.

    The altercation involved 25 to 30 guards, according to Archer Blackwell, a senior staff representative with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Vernarelli said didn't think that many were involved.

    "The details are very sketchy and there is, of course, a great deal of reluctance to say anything at this point," Blackwell said. "He may have been acting out, which is not uncommon. And the officers, when summoned to a disturbance or an inmate who acts unruly, their job is to try to restrain them. It's unfortunate that they have to do that and then when something goes wrong, everyone points the finger at them."

    Raymond Smoot's bond was set at $1,000, she said. Relatives had planned to pay the 10 percent or $100 needed to get him released today, Delvonna Smoot said.

    The incident is the latest problem for Maryland's troubled prison system. A Western Correctional Institution inmate died last year after a violent encounter with prison staff. An inmate was strangled in February on a prison bus traveling between Hagerstown and Baltimore. Another inmate was charged, and prison officials fired three officers and disciplined two others.
    Copyright © 2005, The Associated Press
     
  8. Standing Wolf

    Standing Wolf Member in memoriam

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    That's not just unacceptable: that's grounds for law suits involving truly enormous sums of money.
     
  9. DRZinn

    DRZinn Member

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    I wonder how many of the excess prisoners were victims of the War on (some) Drugs....
     
  10. Alex45ACP

    Alex45ACP Member

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    I was thinking the same thing...
     
  11. Jeff White

    Jeff White Moderator Staff Member

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    I guess that would depend on how you define victims. If their only crime was possession would be my definition. If they were there for any of the crimes that go hand in hand with drug use, burglary, robbery, assault, theft, etc. Then they aren't victims of the war on some drugs, but criminals...

    Jeff
     
  12. DRZinn

    DRZinn Member

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    Well, yeah. Even if they murdered someone while otherwise engaged in helping an old lady across the street, they would still have murdered someone.
     
  13. Jeff White

    Jeff White Moderator Staff Member

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    Doc,
    There are some people who would say if they were a drug user they should fall into the category of victims of the WOD. I disagree. If drugs were legal, which if it were up to me they would be, there still would be much of the crime that goes along with it. Many of those people wouldn't give up their criminal lifestyle to buy their drug of choice legally. It's a lot of work to have a job and get up every morning you know...not conducive to a good high. :uhoh:

    Ending the war on drugs would eliminate the turf battles to control the illegal distribution, but it wouldn't eliminate much more of the crime associated with drugs.

    Jeff
     
  14. DRZinn

    DRZinn Member

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    A drug user who is in jail for using drugs and nothing more is certainly a victim. Obviously many addicts have other behavioral issues such as robbery, assault, etc etc etc.

    I would suspect the vast majority of drug-associated crime is committed by the suppliers rather than the users. Legalization would eliminate or very nearly eliminate, that portion.
     
  15. Jeff White

    Jeff White Moderator Staff Member

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    No, from what I see on the front lines of the WOD, the vast majority of drug related crime is committed by users to raise money to buy their next high. Perhaps legalization will drive the price down enough that people won't have to commit so many crimes to pay for their drugs?

    Jeff
     
  16. Alex45ACP

    Alex45ACP Member

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    Sounds reasonable.
     
  17. DRZinn

    DRZinn Member

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    Probably, but that's beside the point anyway. My point was that if drug activity (read: possession or distribution alone) is the only reason they're there, than they're victims. If they robbed someone to get drugs, than they robbed someone. it doesn't matter why they did it. Hence my "helping a lady across the street" example.
     
  18. DMF

    DMF Member

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    [RHETORICAL] Can someone quote the portion of this article that says the guy was FTA for a drug charge?[/RHETORICAL]

    Oh, that's right this guy wasn't FTA on a drug charge, his underlying charge was felony theft.
    [​IMG]
     
  19. Jeff White

    Jeff White Moderator Staff Member

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    DMF,
    Sorry to let the thread drift. I think the underlying issue here is the conditions at the Baltimore holding facility. Why it's overcrowded has nothing to do with the laws, the laws are the laws, but it has everything to do with spending enough money to have a safe facility.

    I'd still like to know what agency has oversight for local jails in Maryland?

    Jeff
     
  20. davec

    davec Member

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    Whens the last time you read about an alcoholic who knocked over a convince store to get some petty cash to fund his booze habit?

    Not to say it dosent happen, but since the government dosent actively work to artificially inflate the price of booze 800x its not that common.

    Though there would be one bad aspect of drug legalization. Afghan and Colombian warlords would have to find another way to fund their private armys rather then drug profits. And god knows we dont want that to happen.
     
  21. Coronach

    Coronach Moderator Emeritus

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    Actually, I'm not quite so optimistic about this. Crack is already pretty cheap, and even if we waived the magic wand and made it legal and sold in convenience stores, the price for a rock of crack would probably not drop very far (a guestimate of the economics, I will admit). And if you end up giving a crackhead a lot of money (thus lowering the relative price), he doesn't maintain his dosage level and budget his money...he just smokes more. This tells me, in admittedly pseudoscientific fashion, that if you do make crack legal, the crackheads will just smoke more and still be out of money, thus prompting the need to get more money somehow (like street crime).

    The original situation is horrible, for a multitude of reasons. Even if the guards reacted properly, the fact that they're working in a terrible environment makes it seem less likely that their actions were reasonable...and that death seems questionable enough without the added factors of Central Booking's checkered past. :uhoh:

    Mike
     
  22. Sindawe

    Sindawe Member

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    So what is the LD-50 for crack cocaine? If the crackhead smokes enough to kill themselves, well that sorte solves that problem does it not? In short order the crackheads will remove themselves from the population.

    And if the crackhead makes a pest of themselves beforehand, well personally I think Florida has the right idea about how to deal with people who make pests of themselves.
     
  23. molonlabe

    molonlabe Member

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  24. agricola

    agricola Member

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    Detention for four days over here would mean the perp would have to be put before the Court to justify why it was, and for a warrant it has to be put before the next Court (ie next day).

    As for the number of people involved, to restrain someone safely who is being especially violent you need as many as six guys just to prevent anyone getting hurt; if you have less then the officers need to use more forceful (harmful) tactics which is probably what happened here - one or two guards at first hitting him hard to protect themselves, then more coming and restraining him after the damage had been done.
     
  25. only1asterisk

    only1asterisk member

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    Without addressing the superfluous drug comments, it looks to me like Mr. Smoot had a hearing (or 2) and was waiting for someone to bail him out.
    The conditions, while deplorable, seem about standard and have nothing to do with how much force is required to subdue a person that is in custody. While it was mentioned in the articles prominently, neither the family nor the lawyers have claimed that the overcrowding/lack of medical attention for a preexisting condition contributed to his death. They don't even claim that these problems were the catalyst for his initial conflict with his jailers.
    The charge is that the jailers beat Mr. Smoot and he died from the injuries that he sustained. That’s entirely possible, but so are a host of other things. It seems that these are the facts: Smoot was jailed, restrained, injured, transported to the hospital and died. It doesn’t necessarily follow that there was any wrongdoing or negligence by the staff at the jail, but it looks bad.

    David
     
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