Escaped prisoner not cuffed during transport

Melissa Harris
The Baltimore Sun

BALTIMORE — The man who escaped from a state prison van on his way to Baltimore Circuit Court on Tuesday didn't have a very difficult time of it.

The corrections officer driving the van told a judge yesterday that she didn't normally transport prisoners to court but had missed a morning drop-off in Jessup with other officers who were supposed to take him to Baltimore.

After a conversation with a supervisor, Officer Deborah Barron said, she believed she had orders to bring him downtown herself.

She took a regular van that lacked cages and any other security features. She didn't have handcuffs, either.

But she put Marcus Anderson - a 6-foot, 3-inch, 220-pound convicted drug dealer who was facing gun charges - next to her in the front passenger seat anyway.

When she stopped at a red light at Baltimore and South streets, Anderson opened the door, "leaped out" and ran away in a light blue, V-neck Division of Corrections shirt, Barron said.

She couldn't call for help - she had no cell phone or radio. The light changed, and impatient commuters started honking at her, so she drove on to the courthouse alone, she said.

Anderson hasn't been caught, but yesterday Judge Charles G. Bernstein allowed his trial on charges of illegally possessing a firearm to move forward anyway.

After listening to the details of the less-than-thrilling escape, the judge asked a corrections lieutenant investigating the incident whether Barron had given Anderson "bus tokens, too?"

As the lieutenant, Arturo Perez, testified, Bernstein, who is known for his bluntness, frequently shook his head in disbelief and buried his head in his hands.

"If I were a young enterprising criminal, I'd come to Baltimore to set up my practice," he said with evident sarcasm. "This is the place to be. This is the Promised Land."

He called the circumstances of the escape "outrageous."

"Maybe I'll get reversed" by a higher court, Bernstein said of his decision to move forward with Anderson's trial. "Defendants just can't think, 'I don't want to go to trial today. I'm going to escape.' I'm not going to give him a continuance given his actions."

Margaret Burns, a spokeswoman for prosecutors, said that it was important to push for a trial because Anderson's co-defendant in the gun case has "speedy trial rights" and the office is "vigorously" prosecuting gun cases as part of an initiative with the Baltimore Police Department.

Rick Binetti, a spokesman for the state Corrections Department, said that many procedures were not followed, leading up to the morning escape, and that the department was investigating.

As of yesterday, Barron was under internal investigation but had not faced any disciplinary action.

Binetti said that the department transports about 5,500 criminals to court each month and that such lapses are rare.

Barron testified yesterday that she picked up Anderson, 22, in the lobby of the department's Pre-Release Unit in Jessup and took him to a "road crew" van - a standard, unmodified passenger van.

At about 9 a.m., she drove him a half-block to the adjacent Brockbridge Correctional Facility, where a transport unit should have been waiting to take him to court, she said.

When she got there, Barron said, she was told that the transport van had already left.

She reported the problem to a supervisor, who replied, "Oh Lord. OK," and hung up, Barron said.

Supervisors didn't tell Barron to bring Anderson to court "in so many words, but they didn't tell me to bring him back," she said, later adding, "I assumed they wanted me to take him on downtown."

Perez said Barron had "left the cell phone she was supposed to carry."

But Barron said the department had not issued her one that day. The van she was driving, which is normally used to transport inmates working on road crews, did not have a radio, she said.

Barron, a 19-year veteran of the Corrections Department, testified that after Anderson fled, "there was nothing for me to do but proceed. I had a green light. Vehicles were blowing their horns. I reported to the garage [at the courthouse] ... and notified the sheriff, the Jessup Pre-Release Unit and 911."

Anderson, of the 800 block of Herndon Court in South Baltimore, was serving a three-year sentence for violating his probation in a drug-dealing case. A separate drug conviction sparked the probation violation.

Anyone with information about his escape is asked to call 911.

Copyright 2008 The Baltimore Sun

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