Inmate stabs corrections officer at North Branch; officer in stable condition

An inmate stabbed a corrections officer Monday morning at North Branch Correctional Institution near Cumberland, Md., in the fourth attack on prison staff in five weeks.

The stabbing, the most serious in the recent spate of assaults, is the latest crisis to roil Maryland’s corrections system, which is grappling with the fallout from a scandal at the state-run Baltimore City Detention Center. Federal prosecutors have accused a Baltimore gang leader of gaining virtual control of the jail while he was an inmate there with the help of 13 female corrections officers, several of whom he allegedly impregnated.

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The attacks at North Branch, which were attributed to gang activity, are not related to the situation at the Baltimore jail, said Jeff Pittman, a spokesman for Council 3 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents Maryland state corrections officers. But they reflect some of the same problems, such as inadequate staffing and security, Pittman said.

Since June 28, eight officers at North Branch have been assaulted, and seven more have been injured responding to the assaults. Most of the injuries have not been serious, corrections officials said.

Union officials said they will call Tuesday for the removal of administrators in charge of security at the prison. They said those officials did not put the prison on lockdown after intercepting information ahead of the last two attacks that inmates were planning to assault officers.

Prison officials have locked down the facility or altered the movement of inmates since the attacks began in an effort to thwart violence, according to corrections spokesman Rick Binetti.

Union officials met July 25 with Gary D. Maynard, head of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, and discussed the attacks. They left dissatisfied with the state’s response.

“We get that these can be violent workplaces,” Pittman said. “Our objection is when you have actionable intelligence, then it seems like it should lead to some preventative measure being taken.”

Maynard has been in close contact with union officials and is “personally involved in the North Branch situation,” Binetti said.

At North Branch, total assaults on staff were down 11 percent during fiscal 2013, compared with the year before, Binetti said. In total, Maryland correctional facilities experienced a 65 percent drop in serious assaults on staff between 2007 and 2012.

“Nothing is more important to [the corrections department] than the safety of its staff. Any and all assaults are taken seriously. The Department’s thoughts are with the injured officer and his family and we are thankful the injuries he sustained were not life-threatening,” Binetti said in an e-mail.

North Branch is the state’s newest and most advanced maximum-security prison. As of April, it held 1,400 inmates, most of whom are serving time for manslaughter or murder, Binetti said. North Branch is also the destination for inmates who assault other inmates or corrections staff elsewhere in the state prison system.

The attack Monday took place about 8:40 a.m. in a housing unit, corrections department spokesman Mark Vernarelli said. An inmate stabbed a corrections officer five times in the upper torso, leg, shoulder and head with a makeshift weapon. The officer remained conscious and alert throughout the attack.

Corrections officials did not release the name of the officer, whom they described as a man in his 30s who has worked at North Branch since 2009. Nor was the name of the inmate released. He is a Prince George’s County man who is serving a life sentence for murder and other charges, Vernarelli said.

The attack, he said, was unprovoked.

Two officers who responded to the attack incurred minor injuries. All three officers were taken by ambulance to a hospital in Western Maryland. The officer who was stabbed was in stable condition Monday afternoon, Pittman said.

 
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