Somerset corrections officer honored

Daily American staff photo by Judy D.J. Ellich / About 1,000 honor guard members lined the walkway of the entrance of the Sports Complex at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, where memorial services were held Wednesday for state corrections Sgt. Mark Baserman.

JOHNSTOWN — Corrections officers, emergency responders and state officials remembered the life of Mark J. Baserman, a corrections officer who was assaulted by an inmate at the State Correctional Institution at Somerset and later died.

“None of us could have anticipated us gathering here to honor and pay our final respects to our friend and colleague, Sgt. Mark Baserman,” said the Rev. Ulrich Klemm, who led the call to order at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown on Wednesday.

“The tragic events that unfolded on Feb. 15 are deeply ingrained in our hearts and our memories. Those of us in the law enforcement community know too well the unpredictability of violent human behavior. That Sgt. Baserman was not able to recover from his injuries breaks all of our hearts.”

An estimated 3,500 people representing more than 15 states, the District of Columbia and Canada attended the service.

Baserman, of Johnstown, died on Feb. 26, 11 days after he was assaulted by 22-year-old Paul Jawon Kendrick of Pittsburgh inside the medium-security state prison, according to state police. Kendrick 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.

After Klemm’s speech, Capt. Jack Seanor gave a radio check announcing the names of various officers before reaching Baser­man’s name, to which there was no response.

The Rev. Phil Maust, the prison chaplain, said, “Feb. 26 was an awful day. We grieve together, and we join together.”

Larry Blackwell, vice president of the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association, told the audience that many of the people in attendance understood what it meant to be a corrections officer. He said they walk the toughest walks in the state with a radio, whistle, handcuffs and pepper spray. Baserman wore many hats in life, Blackwell said.

He worked as an EMT, was a caretaker for his wife and mother, and served in the Army.

“Mark’s life was a gift of service to others, at work, as a corrections officer,” Blackwell said. “Mark always put other people’s needs before his own, even when it required personal risk. We honor him today as a hero. A hero is someone who faces danger, has integrity, bravery and strength. That’s what law enforcement officers do every day.”

Maust spoke on behalf of Baserman’s family, “To those first responders who held his hand, we will consider you correctly our angel,” Maust said. “To our new DOC family, the night of Feb. 15, 2018, will forever change our lives. This was the beginning of the end of Mark’s life. However, it was the beginning of a new life with our new family. As I sat in Johnstown’s hospital, I was told by complete strangers they would be there no matter what.”

Melissa Hainsworth, superintendent of SCI Somerset, said, “Correc­tions is a difficult and demanding profession. They have long hours with a constant risk of danger and harm. Their jobs are not just to confine and provide for those who have broken the law, but to treat and reform them in an effort to prepare them for their return to society. A corrections officer cannot fear danger. “Sgt. Mark Baser­man was the epitome of a successful corrections officer.”

While much of the ceremony featured speakers associated with the prison system, people from different lines of work, including medical care, spoke as well. Paul Bomboy, a paramedic who knew Baserman, praised the late man for his service to his fellow man.

John Wetzel, secretary of the Pennsylvania Depart­ment of Corrections, told the audience that the country had a sacred covenant with its guardians, many of whom were in the room listening to him

“We’re all saddened and shaken to our core that this tragedy occurred, that this hero died for no reason,” Wetzel said. “When I say no reason, I say it because it’s causeless. But what he stood for is a life of service: service to this country, service to his community, service to the commonwealth. Every citizen in this commonwealth benefited from this man’s heroic service.”

Baserman joined the Department of Corrections in 2007. He had been employed at SCI Somerset since 2012 and was promoted to sergeant in 2016. He formerly worked at SCI Cresson.

“One of the things about corrections that people don’t understand is that we’re forced and asked to deal with the worst that humanity has to offer,” Wetzel said. “The worst side of humanity. And in response to that, we show America our best.”

Reprinted with permission of the (Somerset) Daily American.