Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Prisoner Escapes Laurel Hospital, Shot By Police

from WaPo:

By Ruben Castaneda, Rosalind S. Helderman and Nelson Hernandez
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, January 2, 2008; 5:13 PM

The state prisoner who escaped from Laurel Regional Hospital this morning by overpowering four correctional officers and then carjacking a vehicle was fatally shot this afternoon.

Kelvin D. Poke was shot during a confrontation with Prince George's County police about 3:30 p.m. just inside the county line, police said, and was taken to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

A woman who was with him at the time of the shooting was being questioned, county police said, and it was unclear whether she knew Poke.

Poke, 45, was serving life plus 40 years in prison for a series of violent crimes. He was admitted to the hospital Monday after complaining of chest pains and then fled this morning in a blue 1993 Toyota Camry after shooting the driver, who was hospitalized in good condition.

The search effort moved to the District after police recovered the Toyota, on fire, in the 1100 block of First Street NW. Police said Poke is believed to have then carjacked a white Ford Explorer.

Earlier in the day, the hospital was placed on lockdown after Poke escaped, with employees instructed to remain in their offices. School system officials said five area schools were locked down: Laurel High School and Laurel, Deerfield Run, Oaklands and James H. Harrison elementary schools.

Greg Shipley, a state police spokesman, said Poke overpowered two correctional officers -- under Department of Public Safety protocols, only one was armed -- who were assigned to guard him on the hospital's fourth floor. Two other correctional officers who were guarding another inmate responded and were also overpowered, Shipley said.

According to court documents, Poke was 6 feet 3 inches tall and weighed 215 pounds in late 2005. At the time of the escape, he was wearing prison-issued jeans and no shirt.

Poke fired several shots, Shipley said, but none of the officers was injured and it was unclear whether he fired at them or to break his leg shackles. Shipley said a private security guard then arrived, and Poke escorted him down a staircase and ordered him to lie on the ground.

Poke then fired through the driver's side window of the Toyota, striking the 51-year-old driver in the head, and fled in the vehicle.

One of the officers' .38-caliber handguns was later found in the stairwell, police said.

Poke was serving a sentence of life plus 40 years at the maximum-security Jessup Correctional Institution for kidnapping, carjacking and robbery, according to a news release from the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

In his last criminal case, authorities alleged that Poke jumped a Hyattsville woman in the parking lot of her apartment building as she loaded luggage into her car just after midnight one night in October 2005, according to court documents.

They said she fought back, but he overpowered her, forcing her into the passenger seat of her silver Mazda 626. He then demanded cash, taking $500 from the woman, before forcing her to the floor of the car and driving off with his hand clasped around her neck.

According to the documents, Poke told the woman that he was armed and threatened to rape her. Ultimately, he left her on the side of the road in Northeast Washington. U.S. Park Police found Poke with the car broken down on the side of George Washington Memorial Parkway in Virginia two days later.

Suzanne Almalel, a spokeswoman for Dimensions Health, which manages Laurel Regional Hospital, said hospital officials have been reviewing security since November, when another prisoner escaped police custody there, sparking a five-hour manhunt. Almalel said a meeting this month with corrections and police officials will address standardizing prisoner control.

Patrick Moran, the director of the state council of the union that represents correctional officers, said today's incident proves that officers should not carry weapons inside hospitals. The union has been pushing for a change in policy that would allow them to transport prisoners for medical attention under armed guard but to leave their guns out of hospitals, where they believe risks rise.

"It's a closed setting," he said. "There's distraction. There's a lot of activity."

Moran also said corrections officials should review what kinds of hospitals they contract with for inmate medical care.

"These local hospitals have contracts for medical services and they're not prepared if a situation like this is to happen," he said.

Mark Vernarelli, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said the commissioner of corrections will look into the union's suggestions, including that officers not be armed in hospitals.

"We're going to look into every aspect of this incident and see if any changes need to be made," he said.

Staff writer Howard Schneider and researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.

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