BALTIMORE — Correctional officers on board a bus where an inmate was killed during a nighttime ride from Hagerstown to Baltimore testified Thursday at a wrongful death trial filed by the inmate’s family, telling jurors of a dimly lit bus trip that ended with the officers finding one inmate covered in blood and another dead between the seats.
Larry Cooper took the stand at the civil trial brought by the family of slain inmate Philip Parker Jr. and said the lights were turned on twice during the trip but correctional officers found nothing wrong. Parker’s relatives are seeking $21 million plus punitive damages.
Cooper said movement among the 36 inmates had prompted officers to turn the lights on. After the lights were turned on for the first time, Cooper said he also took out his flashlight and saw inmate Kevin Johns Jr., who was later convicted in Parker’s death, sitting with his head back “looking up at the top of the bus.”
“Once we had checked and we didn’t see anything unusual, we turned the lights out again and we proceeded on,” Cooper testified.
The retired correctional officer said a fellow officer suspected something was wrong shortly after the bus arrived in Baltimore.
“I remember him saying something to the effect of ‘Man, there might be something going on, you know we’re going to have to check them out,’” Cooper said.
Parker was then found unconscious. His parents allege the five officers aboard the bus were negligent in failing to prevent Parker’s strangulation by another inmate. The state contends the officers weren’t negligent because they didn’t know Parker was in danger.
On the day before Parker died, he had testified at Johns’ sentencing for the 2004 murder of a prisoner at the Maryland Correctional Training Center near Hagerstown, according to authorities.
Johns was convicted of murdering his uncle and subsequently killing a fellow inmate. In 2008, he was convicted of murdering Parker but found not criminally responsible due to mental illness. Johns later killed himself in prison.
Parker, of Baltimore, was serving a 3 ½ year sentence for attempted robbery.
Cooper testified earlier that there were no lights in places on Route 70, the road they were traveling on, and it was hard to see inside the bus.
An attorney for the plaintiffs, Sam Shapiro, questioned Cooper on procedures for traveling at night and whether Cooper ensured officers were continually attempting to revive Parker while they waited for paramedics.
Later, the defense called a medical examiner to the stand who said it was his opinion that Parker died within minutes and was beyond revival by the time the bus reached Baltimore.
Two other officers on board the bus that night also took the stand Thursday.
Correctional officer Robert Scott, who was later fired, testified that turning on the lights helped little because they were so dim. He added that inmates often change seats and there was little the officers could do. When they shone their flashlights on the inmates the first time, Johns was leaning over, but Scott later said it was not unusual for inmates to sleep on the bus.
Corrections officer Earl Generette tearfully recounted seeing blood on John’s shirt and then finding Parker’s body.
“He was covered in blood, he had blood on his shirt, on his sleeves,” Generette said of Johns.
Parker, meanwhile, had his legs under the seat and “looked as if he was sleeping,” Generette said. “We tried to wake him by tapping, there was no response.”
When they tried to move him, Parker was wedged between the seats of the bus so tightly the officers had to remove his restraints to move him, he said.