Somerset guard dies from injuries in assault

SOMERSET — A correctional officer at the State Correctional Institution at Somerset has died, 11 days after he was allegedly assaulted by an inmate serving a life sentence at the medium-security state prison in Somerset Township.

Sgt. Mark J. Baserman, 60, died Monday at Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown. He formerly worked at the now closed SCI Cresson.

The inmate, 22-year-old Paul Jawon Kendrick, of Pittsburgh, is serving a life sentence for the 2014 shooting death of a 21-year-old man because the man was playing basketball in his neighborhood, according to published reports. Kendrick was arraigned Monday morning on felony assault charges related to the assault of Baserman and another correctional officer in the prison’s restricted housing unit on Feb. 15.

The charges were not updated Monday to account for Baserman’s death.

State police said the assault may have been prompted by Baserman confiscating the inmate’s towel earlier in the day. Kendrick was using the towel to conceal his bunk, Trooper Jordan Shaulis wrote in a probable-cause affidavit.

The assault, captured on video surveillance, showed Kendrick talking to Baserman and then striking the sergeant in the face, knocking him to the ground, police said. Once Baserman was on the floor, the inmate struck him an additional eight to 10 times about the head and face. Another correctional officer working in the unit came to Baserman’s aid, attempted to restrain Kendrick and was struck in the face several times, rendering him “briefly unconscious,” according to the affidavit.

After freeing himself from the second officer, Kendrick again turned his attention to Baserman, who was still lying on the floor, police said.

“The defendant walked over and kicked Baserman in the head, as he was trying to recover from the floor, rendering him completely unresponsive,” Shaulis wrote.

Prison staff restrained Kendrick and gave first aid to the two officers until emergency medical service personnel arrived, according to a statement from the state Department of Corrections. Both officers were taken to a local hospital for treatment. Baserman remained hospitalized at Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown in serious condition until his death. The other officer, whose full name has not been disclosed, was treated and released.

Baserman’s work was lauded by state officials. He started with Department of Corrections in 2007 at the now-closed SCI-Cresson. He had been employed at SCI-Somerset since 2012 and was promoted to sergeant in 2016.

“This officer is a hero who gave his life to protect Pennsylvania from its most violent criminals,” said Jason Bloom, president of the Pennsylvania State Correc­tions Officers Association, in a statement. “His senseless death is a tragedy that must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Inmates must know that any attacks on an officer will lead to swift and certain punishment.”

The association represents 9,500 correctional officers in the 26 state correctional institutions and forensic units.

The union called for the Department of Corrections to “permanently ban Timberland and other similar boots that led to this officer’s most serious injuries.”

“These boots are being used as weapons and must be removed immediately,” Bloom said.

The last fatal staff assault by an inmate occurred at SCI Graterford in Montgomery County on March 20, 1979, according to the department.

“The minute we learned of this unprovoked, brutal attack on Sgt. Baserman and another officer who came to his aid, our hearts sank,” Corrections Secre­tary John Wetzel said in a statement. “We are greatly saddened by Sgt. Baserman’s death, and our thoughts are with his family at this time.”

Gov. Tom Wolf and his wife, Frances, also sent their condolences to Baserman’s family, friends and co-workers.

“DOC, specifically … SCI Somerset, will have all the resources it needs during this difficult time,” he said. “I also ask all Pennsylvanians to stand behind DOC employees now and always, as these law enforcement officers’ jobs are vital to protecting public safety.”

On Monday, in a video arraignment before District Judge Sandra Stevanus of New Centerville, Kendrick, a slender man of average height sitting in a chair with his hands restrained behind him and surrounded by prison staff, answered the judge’s questions in softly spoken one-syllable words.

He was charged with two counts each of assault by life prisoner, aggravated assault and simple assault.

Stevanus placed him on a $75,000 bond and set his preliminary hearing for 11 a.m. March 9 in the Somerset County Court of Common Pleas. Kendrick was moved to the restricted housing unit at SCI Huntingdon.

“The inmate was immediately transferred to another state prison. No weapons were used by the inmate during this attack, and no other inmates were involved,” department spokeswoman Amy Worden wrote in a media release.

Somerset County District Attorney Lisa Lazzari-Strasiser was in court Monday and could not immediately be reached for comment on whether her office will amend the charges against Kendrick.

This is the second reported assault in the state prison’s restricted housing unit this year. Inmate Dale Michael Wakefield, 25, was charged with killing his cellmate, Joshua Steven Perry, 25, on Jan. 9. Wakefield is awaiting a preliminary hearing before Stevanus, also on March 9 in the county courthouse.

Story reprinted courtesy of the (Somerset) Daily American.