By Ruben Castaneda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 14, 2009
An inmate in a maximum-security unit of the Prince George's County jail was badly beaten this month after a guard in a control booth "inadvertently" opened his cell, allowing another inmate, an alleged member of a violent street gang, to enter the cell and assault him, officials said.
The victim, DeAndre Wilson, 19, told his attorney that he was dragged out of his cell during the June 6 attack and that he was "bleeding and slipping in and out of consciousness," according to court papers filed by the attorney. Wilson said his nose was broken in the attack, and he said he did not receive proper treatment.
"He didn't even look like my son," said Wilson's mother, Sherenna M.V. Corbett, recalling her visit with him a day or two after the attack. "I fell to my knees."
Vernon Herron, the county's director of public safety, described the incident as "inexcusable" and said it is under investigation. He said he knows of no connection between the alleged assailant and the guard.
"I'm not happy about this," Herron said Friday. "When you come to work as a correctional officer or a police officer or a firefighter, and you don't bring your 'A-game,' people get hurt. I guarantee it won't happen again."
The assault was the latest in a series of violent incidents at the jail caused by security breakdowns. In February, a band of inmates disabled the locks on their cell doors and stormed out to assault guards. In November, an inmate disabled the lock on his cell door and assaulted another inmate.
A jail employee said Wilson's attacker shouted obscenities as he dragged the inmate down the stairs from the cellblock's second tier, where Wilson's cell was. Wilson's head bounced off the stairs repeatedly, said the employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give interviews.
Wilson's attorney, Assistant Public Defender Kimberly V. Lewis, wrote in the court filing that when she saw Wilson two days after the assault, he had two black eyes, stitches above his left eye, swollen eyes and open leg wounds.
In the filing, Lewis says her client fears for his life, and she asks that he be released early or placed on home detention. In September, Wilson was sentenced to 18 months in jail after pleading guilty to an armed robbery.
In the maximum-security unit, inmates are locked down 23 hours a day. Inmates are allowed out for one hour each day for recreation. This occurs round-the-clock.
Herron said the assault occurred about 4 a.m., when Jermain Williams was out of his cell for his recreation hour. A short time earlier, Herron said, a jail guard pulled on Wilson's door and the doors of other cells to make sure they were secure.
The jail guard assigned to the control booth, where access to the cellblock and to cells is controlled electronically, told jail officials he "inadvertently" opened the cell Wilson shared with another inmate, Herron said.
Williams entered that cell and assaulted Wilson, Herron said. Wilson's cellmate was not attacked, he said.
Williams is thought to be a member of the Bloods, a violent street gang, the jail employee said. Herron said he confirmed that Williams is a member of a street gang, which he declined to identify.
County public defender Brian C. Denton, whose office represents Williams, declined to comment.
The jail source said officers suspect that Wilson had exchanged words with an inmate in another cellblock, who then arranged to have Wilson attacked.
Wilson was attacked in the same cellblock where, a year ago, Ronnie L. White was found dead in his cell less than 48 hours after he was arrested in the slaying of a county police officer. A medical examiner ruled White's death a homicide. After a lengthy investigation, State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey (D) said there was not enough evidence to charge anyone in White's death. The Justice Department is reviewing the case.
Williams is incarcerated on a charge of second-degree assault in a domestic-violence case. He is accused of punching his girlfriend repeatedly in the face and head April 15, according to police charging documents. Williams is to go to trial July 17.
Herron said he expects that Williams will be charged with assaulting Wilson. Herron said Wilson will be isolated from other inmates "as best we can" to protect his safety.
Wilson was treated at Prince George's Hospital Center, returned to the jail and admitted to the medical unit, where he remained as of Friday, the jail source said.
Last week, Corbett wrote to Circuit Court Judge Melanie Shaw-Geter, saying that inmates had also attacked her son in his cell last month.
"Your honor, please [release] my son please, I don't want to get a call in the middle of the night my son is dead. or they done found my son dead in a cell," she wrote.
She added that she did not think her son would be safe in protective custody. Referring to White's death, she wrote, "they found the other boy dead in a cell."