About 100 angry prison guards and supporters protested outside the offices of the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services here today amid reports that eight guards and a warden in Hagerstown are to be disciplined over the alleged beating of six inmates last year.
Sources in state government and the guards' union said four of the eight guards were to be fired and four demoted next week. The warden, James P. Tinney III, head of the Maryland Correctional Institution in Hagerstown, reportedly is expected to resign or be dismissed.
Inside the corrections headquarters building today, top corrections department officials met privately with representatives of the guards' union, the Maryland Classified Employes Association, but would not discuss details of the meeting.
The confrontation marked a major test for Frank A. Hall, the new state corrections chief who took over in July. Protest leaders contend that he and other officials have not fairly investigated the allegations against the so-called "Hagerstown Eight" and that local news media reports have been biased.
"We feel the department has prejudged the officers," said Joseph Adler, executive director of the employes association.
He said the allegations stemmed from an incident last October when eight guards transferred six inmates allegedly involved in a prison disturbance from the Maryland Correctional Training Center in Hagerstown to the more secure Maryland Correctional Institution just across the road.
Adler said the six inmates claimed that the eight guards suddenly began beating them as they were being escorted to isolation cells in the institution. State prison investigators said white guards on the detail also ordered black inmates to call them "master."
Adler said all eight guards have consistently denied the allegations. "There is no evidence to corroborate the inmates' story," he said.
Repeated attempts to reach Tinney today were unsuccessful. Other officials at the Hagerstown facility declined to discuss the incident.
Corrections officials refused to discuss the case except to say that both the Division of Correction and the State Police have investigated the incident. A corrections spokeswoman said a final decision on possible disciplinary action will be made "in the next few days."
Adler said he was told that four of the eight guards will be fired next week and that the other four will be demoted and suspended without pay for 30 days.