Eight Maryland correctional officers were fired yesterday in connection with the death last month of a petty criminal during a violent confrontation at a pretrial detention center in Baltimore.
State officials did not say what role each is alleged to have played in the May 14 death of Raymond Smoot, a detainee at the state-run Baltimore Central Booking and Intake Center, a crowded facility that is one of the busiest booking centers in the country.
Corrections authorities said officers called for assistance after Smoot, 51, defied orders to enter his cell. A struggle followed, they said, and Smoot was injured. The state medical examiner's office ruled the death a homicide, saying Smoot died of "multiple injuries."
"This department does not and will not tolerate unnecessary or excessive use of force," Mary Ann Saar, secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said in a statement announcing the terminations.
Officials declined to identify the guards, who ranged in rank from lieutenant to probationary employee, and none could be reached for comment. Messages left at the Maryland Correctional Law Enforcement Union, which represents at least some of the fired guards, were not returned.
Kenya Kelly, one of Smoot's adult children, said she found little solace in the firings, which she said should have occurred "the day that my father was murdered, not a month later." Kelly said she is disappointed that an ongoing criminal investigation has not produced any charges.
"He really wasn't a violent person . . . so for him to have died the way he did, that was very upsetting," Kelly, 34, said of her father.
Smoot, who lived in Randallstown, Md., was arrested May 3 on a warrant charging him with missing a court date in late September, the latest in a string of relatively minor charges over more than two decades. He was held on $1,500 bond pending a June 2 court date.
Kelly's attorney, A. Dwight Pettit, said other detainees say that Smoot was savagely beaten by a number of guards after a confrontation with two female guards. Once Smoot was down, Pettit said, guards kicked him in the head repeatedly, "like they were kicking a volleyball." One of Smoot's eyes was knocked from its socket, he said, and his face was left swollen and disfigured beyond recognition.
Pettit said he has written and videotaped statements from one detainee who said he witnessed the confrontation. That detainee, who has since been released and lives out of state, did not return a phone call yesterday seeking comment.
Archer Blackwell, an official with another union that represents correctional officers at the facility, said inadequate training and poor management decisions are in part to blame for the incident.
"I think it's very unfortunate that it happened, but as long as they keep sending people out there ill-trained and ill-prepared to deal with situations like this, it opens the door for these types of things to happen," said Blackwell, senior staff representative for Council 67 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
Warren A. Brown, an attorney for another Smoot family member, said of the guards involved: "I think to a person they would tell you they really didn't receive even close to adequate training for the circumstances that led to this guy's death and their firing."
Prisons spokesman Mark Vernarelli has said state officials do not believe Smoot's death is attributable to shortcomings in training or to any other systemic failure but rather to a "lack of responsibility, and, worse, lack of regard for human life."
Researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.