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Criminal Guards and Escaping Prisoners in Texas

On July 21, 2002, Lt. Rick McCullough was arrested for assaulting two female guards at the Riverside State Prison for women in the central Texas town of Gatesville. McCullough, 41, a Texas prison guard assigned to the nearby Woodman State Jail for women, was held on $25,000 bond after being charged with two counts of assault causing bodily injury to a public servant.

Witnesses told police that McCullough attacked Capt. Nada Ragsdale and guard Lisa Sypert. Both women were taken to a local hospital where they were treated for their injuries.

"We believe there was some sort of argument over the lieutenant's key," said a prison spokesman. "He apparently could not find his key and was trying to get an additional one when the argument began."

Ragsdale sustained injuries to her eyes and choke marks around her neck. Sypert suffered a cracked nose, contusions of the left cheek, and scratches to her left elbow.

Separately, a series of recent guard-on-prisoner sexual assaults was reported by Kelly Weeks, a special prosecutor for Texas' Office of the Attorney General. In August 2002, Lonzo McShan III, a guard at the Walls State Prison in Huntsville, was arrested and charged with sexually abusing prisoners, it was alleged that McShan, 25, forced male prisoners to perform oral sex on him.

Melvin Chandler, a guard at the Jim Estelle State Prison in Huntsville, was indicted in July 2002 after a co-worker observed him giving oral sex through the cell bars to a prisoner. Michael Chaney, a guard at the O. L. Luther State Prison in the south Texas town of Navasota, was arrested in May 2002 and charged with forcing male prisoners to perform oral sex.

Carol Ann Shepitka and Sallie Wvalle were both arrested and charged with having sexual relations with two different male prisoners at the Thomas J. Goree and the Walls State Prisons in Huntsville. Tanya Coon, a former parole officer in Grimes County, was charged with having sexual relations with a parolee.

Weeks said her office is continuing to investigate several instances of sexual misconduct by Texas prison employees.

Farther north in Abilene, a former prison guard snatched Nancy Chavez, a month-old infant, from a van in a Wal-Mart parking lot. On August 13, 2002, Margarita Chavez had finished her shopping and placed her three children in the family minivan. She stepped 10 feet away to return a shopping cart, then turned to see a woman pulling her infant daughter from the van into another car. Margarita tried to stop the getaway car but failed after being dragged 30 feet through the parking lot.

The following day, Nancy was found in the west Texas town of Quanah, about 125 miles north of Abilene. Police stopped a car that matched the description of the getaway car and arrested Paula Lynn Roach who was charged with aggravated kidnapping. Nancy was returned, unharmed, to her parents in Abilene.

James Duke, warden at the Robertson State Prison in Abilene, said that Roach, 24, was employed there as a prison guard for about 20 months before she resigned in September 2000. Roach had since worked at a local convenience store.

It took a series of embarrassing and unrelated escapes to remind Texas correctional officials that a prison is only as strong as its weakest guard. On July 1, 2002, Benjamin Leal, 18, and Jose Mendoza, 29, broke out of Cameron County's new detention facility. The two men used plastic spoons to pick the lock on a storage closet. They then opened a utility panel and made their way to the roof of the $19 million high-security facility. From the roof, the two men jumped to freedom.

"Spoons? Imagine what they can do with a fork," said County Commissioner Carlos Cascos.

David Veal, 36, escaped from the Hood County Jail on February 13, 2001. He had been arrested and charged with killing a neighbor in a murder-for-hire scheme. Veal had wiggled through an air duct in a shower, climbed to the roof of the jail, and then fled.

While Veal was on the run, two other prisoners escaped from the jail by using toothpaste and monofilament thread to saw through the hollow tubular steel bars. They were both captured a few days later. Two more prisoners escaped from the jail's maintenance crew but were captured the following day. Veal, however, remained at large for 18 months.

On August 16, 2002, near Fresno, California, Veal was arrested for stealing candy bars and soft drinks from a grocery store. After police ran fingerprint and tattoo comparisons, Veal was identified as an escapee from Hood County and returned to Texas.

In a bizarre case of providing services beyond the ordinary, an Oklahoma attorney was sentenced to 8 years in prison for masterminding a scheme to liberate two men from a Texas jail. Twana Smith, 45, smuggled a hacksaw blade into the Montague County Jail and gave it to her son, Joshua Bagwell, and his friend, Curtis Gambill. The two men had been transferred to Montague where they were being held pending legal proceedings related to their murder convictions. The two men were serving life sentences in Texas for murdering a 16-year-old cheerleader.

Following the escape, Bagwell and Gambill were on the run for 10 days before they were captured in Oklahoma. As part of the escape plot, attorney Smith obtained two assault rifles, camping equipment, and topographical maps. After being captured, the two men were returned to separate Texas prisons. In August 2002, Smith agreed to a plea-bargain deal. Smith had practiced law in Lawton, Oklahoma, and served as an assistant city attorney there until 1999.

Back in Gatesville, Kevin Hicks ran away from the Coryell County Jail. Working as a jail trusty, Hicks was hauling trash from the jail on the morning of August 27, 2002, when he dropped his trash can, ran down an alley, and disappeared. Sheriff's officers and members of the Gatesville Police Department joined in a search; Hicks was captured in a local lumber company's warehouse 6 hours later. He was taken into custody without incident.

Sources: Associated Press reports, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, The Gatesville Messenger, The Huntsville Item, Killeen Daily Herald

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