Just before he was beaten nearly to death, Dominetreous Anthony was requesting a jury trial.

Accused of striking an officer after an assault at the Roxbury Correctional Institution, Anthony had maintained his innocence. He won’t get the chance to prove it.

After returning to the prison from court, Anthony was jumped and beaten by unknown assailants on Jan. 31 at Western Correctional Institution, where he was being incarcerated while preparing to plead his case.

The beating was so severe the Anthony slipped into a coma. He hasn’t woken up since. But Sonia Owens, his mother, had no idea anything was amiss for more than a week.

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Owens said she received a call from a doctor at a hospital in Western Maryland on Feb. 6, who informed her that they needed her permission to perform a bronchoscopy, a procedure that allows a doctor to examine the airways in the lungs. Anthony had a history of pneumonia, Owens said, so she assumed that was what why he was in the hospital.

Over the next several days, Owens called the prison for answers, but was unable to reach the warden, she said. Meanwhile, she received more calls from the doctor at the hospital, requesting permission for other procedures: a spinal tap, an MRI.

It wasn’t until Feb. 16 that Owens got permission to see her son in the hospital, she said. When she got there, he had visible bruising on his face, and his head was swollen. The doctor told her that Anthony had a traumatic brain injury. Owens was in shock.

Sonia Owens testifies before the House Judiciary Committee on March 7, 2024. Owens’ son, Dominetreous Anthony, was severely beaten shortly after he requested a jury trial on charges of fighting a correctional officer.

She pressed still for more details, but in turn got the “runaround,” Owens said. “Nobody is giving any information.”

Visibly distraught, Owens appeared before lawmakers on Thursday to testify in support of a prison reform bill that would mandate new reporting requirements for all deaths in Maryland prisons and jails and independent reviews of deaths deemed to be due to mental health crises.

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“This bill is very much needed, even though my son, thank God, is still alive,” Owens told lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee. “I don’t know how many other mothers are going through this and their sons aren’t.”

After several days of questioning prison officials, Owens said she was told that her son was assaulted by another prisoner, even given his name, which confused her because she was told by others that it was an active investigation and they couldn’t share details.

In response to questions from The Baltimore Banner, the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services said its Intelligence and Investigative Division has identified “two incarcerated suspects whom they believe assaulted Mr. Anthony.”

“The facility warden and the investigating detective have both spoken to the victim’s mother and understand how distraught she is,” said department spokesperson Mark Vernarelli. “Because the case is open and under investigation, they are limited in what they are able to share at this time.”

The department added that it was working to expedite Anthony’s release on medical parole.

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Owens believes there is more to the story. Specifically, she suspects that whatever happened to her son could have been retaliation for his refusal to take a plea deal on his charges.

“They’re not notifying people when they’re hurt and taken out of the facility,” Owens said of her son. “They’re covering it up.”

The lack of answers from prison officials, from the warden down, Owens said, has re-traumatized her and given her nightmares.

Owens said she also supports another bill discussed on Thursday, which would establish an independent ombudsman’s office that would have the power to investigate incidents like the one that happened to Anthony and subpoena witnesses. Lawmakers discussed that bill Friday but it did not come to a vote.

During a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Thursday afternoon, legal experts and those with loved ones in Maryland prisons pleaded with lawmakers to support the bill, which is gaining considerable momentum.

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It has also garnered the support of public officials such as Attorney General Anthony Brown, who has requested that the office be an independent agency, rather than housed as part of the attorney general’s office as it was initially written.

“This is a great bill, it’s needed desperately,” Brown said to lawmakers. “Just take it out of the Office of the Attorney General, and I look forward to advising the ombudsman on their duties.”

The office is expected to save the state money in the form of preventing instances of abuse and reducing the number of lawsuits filed against the corrections department.