10/26/2006

Maine police foil apparent gun smuggling attempt

The Associated Press
 
WARREN- A woman who hoped to slip a loaded handgun to an inmate at the Maine State Prison was arrested in the parking lot, averting a potential hostage situation, authorities said Wednesday.

Troopers ordered Susan Watland face-down to the ground in the prison parking lot on Tuesday as she arrived for a visit with her husband, Gary Watland, 45, of Anson, who was serving 25 years for murder, state Corrections Commissioner Martin Magnusson said.

Hidden in Watland's clothing was a .40-caliber Beretta handgun loaded with 10 rounds of ammunition and the safety in the off position, said Magnusson. The plan was for her to pass the gun to her husband in the visitor area, he said.

"He was going to take everyone in the visiting area hostage, try to get us to let them both out the sally port, and then potentially start shooting hostages if we refused to let them out," Magnusson said. "We could have had a real tragedy."

An informant had alerted prison officials to a potential attempt to bring a weapon into the state's most secure prison, and officials were able by Monday to ascertain the identities of the visitor and the inmate, the commissioner said in an interview.

Susan Watland, 46, of Jackson, was arrested on charges of aiding an escape and trafficking in prison contraband. She was being held in the Knox County Jail pending an appearance Thursday in Rockland District Court.

She may face additional charges, Magnusson said, and charges may be forthcoming against her husband, as well. Officials had no information about Susan Watland and did not immediately know whether she had a criminal record.

Gary Watland was sentenced last year after pleading guilty to murdering Wayne Crowley, 32, after the two had gone target shooting in Anson.

Prison officials initially thought Watland was going to come to the prison later in the week but they learned Tuesday that she was coming that afternoon.

With roughly three hours of notice, prison officials contacted a prosecutor to help obtain a search warrant for the woman and her vehicle. They also arranged a rapid deployment of state police, many of them dressed in camouflage gear and armed with assault rifles.

"The troopers were deployed so that she would be arrested in the parking lot. Under no circumstances did we want her to get as far as the lobby," Magnusson said. The prison itself was locked down during the incident.

Magnusson said operations at the prison were returning to normal Wednesday, although the facility was still off-limits to visitors.

He said investigators were seeking to determine whether other inmates and people on the outside may have been involved in the alleged plot.

The prison houses nearly 1,000 inmates, putting it at full capacity.

The commissioner said Gov. John Baldacci had been briefed in advance of the operation and had approved the prison's plan for all contingencies.

Magnusson said he was aware of an incident many years ago in which a weapon was smuggled into the old Maine State Prison in Thomaston, which has since been torn down. The weapon was not used and guards eventually were able to find it.

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