BALTIMORE (AP) — A retired Maryland correctional officer testified Thursday at a wrongful death trial that nothing seemed amiss on a prison bus where an inmate was killed in 2005 during a nighttime trip from Hagerstown to Baltimore.
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, according to authorities.
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
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.
Parker and Johns were aboard a Division of Correction bus that was carrying a group of inmates from Hagerstown to the
maximum-security Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center in Baltimore.
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 1/2 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.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)