Most of the 33 prison guards assigned to the overnight shift at the Maryland Penitentiary here reported for work early today, despite calls by many of their colleagues for a sickout to protest the state's response to the slaying of a corrections officer last week.
State corrections officials said that 27 of the 33 men on the midnight to 8 a.m. detail came to work at the maximum security facility just a few hours after more than 100 angry guards voted to stage a sickout and demanded the ouster of Maryland's public safety secretary, corrections commissioner and the three top administrators of the penitentiary.
In anticipation of the job action, corrections officials had called in about 40 officers from the Maryland State Police and the division's own regional tactical unit to man the overnight shift.
A prisons spokeswoman refused to speculate how many of the 75 guards expected to report for the day shift a 8 a.m. would participate in the sickout. "We're just sort of waiting," said Beverly Marable.
More than 100 of the 380 penitentiary guards, many of whom had earlier attended the funeral of their slain colleague, Herman Toulson Jr., met last night and called for the sickout, which was not sanctioned officially by their two unions.
The action by the guards came several hours after Gov. Harry Hughes had agreed to begin an independent investigation of security arrangements at the penitentiary, but refused a request by guard union representatives to reassign the prison's warden and assistant warden until the probe is completed.
"These officers feel their requests are not being addressed," said Ricardo Silva, a labor relations representative for the Maryland Classified Employees Association (MCEA), one of two unions representing the more than 350 guards at the prison.
Reacting to the guards' vote, state Corrections Commissioner Arnold Hopkins said, in a statement read by the spokeswoman, "I regret that the two unions have taken this action which is not in the best interest of the public, their membership and the security of the Maryland Penitentiary."
The approximately 1,440 inmates at the aging facility in East Baltimore remained in their cells overnight as the lockup that began shortly after the stabbing death of Toulson last Saturday continued. Maryland State Police officers were guarding the prison's walls, and Baltimore city police were manning the perimeter of the facility. Officers of the prison system's tactical squad were within the penitentiary, and additional units remained on alert if needed, the spokeswoman said.
Hughes, speaking at a news conference yesterday after he attended Toulson's funeral, appealed to penitentiary guards "to cooperate with us" in the state's efforts to beef up security and investigate whether additional measures are necessary.
"We are offering to do several things we hope will improve the situation," said Hughes, "and I hope that correctional officers . . . will maintain the kind of discipline that is necessary to prevent another tragedy."
But the governor outright rejected, as had Secretary of Public Safety and Correctional Services Frank Hall, the two unions' demand that warden Leslie Dorsey and assistant warden Patricia Shupple be reassigned until the state completes its investigation.
Since Toulson's death, union officials repeatedly have charged that the prison's administrators have failed to ensure the safety of the facility's staff.
The guards' outrage apparently grew even stronger yesterday, as hundreds of correctional officers from throughout the state attended Toulson's funeral in Baltimore.