A guard who was patrolling the perimeter of the Prince George's County jail when nine inmates escaped two weeks ago will be docked two weeks' pay for wearing stereo headphones during his shift, a jail spokesman said.
The guard, Michael Sofidiya, has admitted to wearing the headphones during an earlier part of his patrol, which began at 11 p.m. on July 6, the spokesman said. The nine men, all awaiting trial on charges ranging from armed robbery to violating probation, escaped from a third-floor jail window sometime between 2:30 a.m. and 4:45 a.m. that night.
Two of the escapees were arrested last Wednesday after a tip was received by the county police, but the others remain at large.
"I would like to emphasize that I do not think he would have been able to thwart the escape had he not had the earphones on," said jail spokesman James O'Neill. "The inmates went off the northeast corner of the building. They probably merely waited for him to be on the other side of the building before they escaped. But it is a breach of security procedures . . . so he will be docked two weeks' pay."
O'Neill said that Sofidiya, 32, who has worked for the Department of Corrections for a year, would not be suspended. "He has an unblemished record," O'Neill said, adding that under personnel procedures Sofidiya has several days to appeal the penalty.
The nine men escaped apparently by sawing their way through a window and lowering themselves to the ground with ropes. O'Neill said that guard Robert Smith, who was assigned to watch the cell at the time of the escape, has "not at this time been found guilty of anything that would indicate gross negligence."
In a related incident, the Prince George's County chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is investigating reports that a team of county sheriffs and police officers possibly violated the constitutional rights of several families, including that of a jail employe, when the officers searched the families' homes without search warrants while pursuing the inmates.
A spokeswoman for the ACLU said she learned of the incidents last week when she received an anonymous phone call from a woman who appeared to be a friend of one of the families.
"She told me the sheriffs and the police had come into the houses without warrants and generally frightened the people there," said Claire Bigelow, president of the local ACLU. "We would be most interested to see whether there is a violation of constitutional rights. Unfortunately, we haven't heard from the families themselves." She said the organization usually acts on the basis of a complaint from an affected party.
Sheriff James V. Aluisi acknowledged that his deputies did not have search warrants, but said they carried arrest warrants for the escapees.
He said he had consulted with members of the Office of the State's Attorney, who advised him that the search warrants were not necessary.
"We believe them the searches not to be illegal, and that we were within the framework as set up by the court system," Aluisi said.
With the exception of the home of the jail employe, a Lanham woman who teaches high school equivalency courses at the jail, Aluisi said that each of the six homes searched had been listed by the escaped inmates as their own or as previous residences and thus were considered likely refuges. Police said the teacher's home was searched in an attempt to locate one of the escapees.
Aluisi refused to disclose the addresses of the homes because, he said, the inmates are still at large. He said that none of the homes were entered "forcibly," although he would not describe the extent of the searches.