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Rash of Security Breaches Plagues Nation’s Prisons and Jails

by Christopher Zoukis

A review of recent news reports has revealed a recent spate of security breaches by both jail detainees and state and federal prisoners across the country. In October 2017 alone, escapes were reported in ten states involving at least 19 prisoners. Though most of those incidents were nonviolent, some involved injuries and fatalities.

One of the most violent occurred in North Carolina, where an October 12, 2017 escape attempt from a state prison resulted in the deaths of four employees and injuries to a dozen other people at the Pasquotank Correctional Institution in Elizabeth City.

According to the state Department of Public Safety (DPS), the incident began at around 3:30 p.m. when prisoners started a fire in the facility’s sewing plant – an industry program where safety vests and embroidered items are made as part of the state’s Correction Enterprises.

Calls to 911 made by staff members indicated that prisoners were attacking guards with hammers and stabbing them with scissors. Pasquotank County Sheriff Randy Cartwright told the Charlotte Observer that the situation could have been worse were it not for the rapid response of law enforcement, who initially found things were out of control.

“It was chaos here,” said Cartwright.

Correction Enterprises manager Veronica Darden and prison guard Justin Smith were killed during the melee. Another guard, Wendy Shannon, who was wounded during the fight, died several weeks later, while maintenance worker Gregory Howe succumbed to his injuries on November 2, 2017. DPS said other employees were hospitalized and several prisoners were treated for injuries. Housing almost 700 prisoners of various security levels, the facility was locked down during the escape attempt, as were local schools.

Four prisoners have since been charged with first-degree murder: Wisezah Buckman, 29, serving a 32-year sentence for a 2014 murder in Charlotte; Jonathan Monk, 30, imprisoned for attempted murder; Mikel Brady, 28, serving a 24-year sentence for shooting a state trooper in the face during a 2013 traffic stop; and Seth Frazier, 33, on his last year of a seven-year sentence for first-degree burglary. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

The prisoners had tried to reach an outside loading dock to escape. Buckman reportedly attempted to climb a fence and became entangled in the razor wire, while Brady and Frazier made it to a final perimeter fence but surrendered after an officer fired a warning shot.

DPS Secretary Erik Hooks expressed dismay over the circumstances surrounding the deadly incident.

“As a career law enforcement professional, I am outraged that someone who was convicted of attempting to murder a North Carolina State Highway Patrol trooper, as well as the other inmates who also were convicted of violent attacks, were allowed to work in an environment where they had access to tools that could be used as weapons,” he said.

The sewing plant at the Pasquotank Correctional Institution has been closed.

Also ending in tragedy was a Louisiana escape in which a prisoner abducted and murdered an assistant warden’s stepdaughter before being shot and killed in a standoff with police.

Deltra Henderson, 39, was on a work assignment on the grounds of the David Wade Correctional Center when he walked away on July 27, 2017. He then kidnapped 19-year-old Amanda Carney, who lived on the prison property with her parents – her stepfather was an assistant warden – and stole a car. Henderson crashed, and Carney’s body was found in a wooded area near the accident site. Claiborne Parish Sheriff Ken Bailey said investigators believe she was stabbed to death.

Henderson made contact with a resident in the area and stole another vehicle, which he also crashed. He then entered a nearby home and found a gun; he barricaded himself inside and exchanged gunfire with prison guards, during which he was shot and killed.

Henderson was serving a 30-year sentence for a 1999 armed robbery and had a 2025 release date. Carney had just graduated from high school and enrolled to study nursing at Southern Arkansas University. Her high school principal, Shane Lee, said the community lost “a young lady that we cherish ... [who] excelled in academics, athletics, and was a true role model to fellow classmates.”

PLN previously reported the escape of two Georgia state prisoners from a transport bus after they killed two guards in June 2017. Donnie Russell Rowe, 44, and Ricky Dubose, 24, were captured a few days later and now face the death penalty. [See: PLN, Mar. 2018, p.50].

A less deadly escape attempt occurred in Marshall County, Kansas on October 14, 2017. According to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, Jeffrey S. Guenther, 46, and Matson Z. Hatfield, 30, incarcerated at the county jail, set fire to a cell shortly before 4 p.m., causing the facility to fill with smoke. They forced their way out during the confusion, obtained two shotguns and fled.

Guenther stole a county employee’s pickup truck and headed for the highway; a Marysville police officer fired on him as he drove away. He eventually crossed into Nebraska, where he lost control of and rolled the truck, after which he was captured.

Hatfield ran to a nearby house and shot at a resident, with whom he was acquainted, as the man stood in front of his home. According to The Wichita Eagle, he surrendered to police officers soon afterwards. Despite the fire at the jail and the use of weapons by both escapees, no one was injured.

Another escape attempt that involved a gun and a carjacking landed the fleeing prisoner in a hospital. Eugene Robinson, 37, was serving a 30-year sentence at the George County Regional Detention Center in Lucedale, Mississippi for a pair of 2003 armed robberies when he tied up a guard and stole his truck on February 3, 2018.

Three days later in Eupora, 220 miles north, police received a report of a carjacking. The victim had managed to fire a shot as the thief sped away, and a wounded Robinson was caught and taken to a hospital, Sheriff Keith Havard stated.

Todd Boyes, 43, of Caldwell, Ohio also was shot while on the lam after escaping from the South Central Regional Jail in South Charleston, West Virginia in October 2017. He was captured in Texas four days later, after being wounded when trying to evade police officers.

The West Virginia State Police were not notified of Boyes’ escape for over 48 hours, and jail staff did not report his absence to the state Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety for another 30 hours after that.

Boyes’ mother has since been charged with aiding his escape and three guards at the jail were charged with misdemeanor negligence in connection with the incident.

Guard Jordan Levi Toler, 22, was sent to fetch Boyes from his cell for a physical exam on October 25, 2017. When he failed to find Boyes, he completed a refusal to consent to medical treatment form and signed it with his own name.

“I signed the paper because I couldn’t get him to answer whenever I yelled for his name in the section,” Toler said. “He didn’t come so that’s what I thought I needed to do. I was never told otherwise that’s how you don’t do or that’s how you do it. That’s how everybody else does it, so that’s how I did it.”

Another jailer, Pamela Ann McNeely, 47, said she let Boyes walk out of the facility without asking for identification because she thought he was a counselor who had come to see a prisoner.

And a third guard, Allison Taylor Bryant, 22, admitted that she failed to lock or watch the door through which Boyd left. But she placed blame on the jail for being understaffed, saying it would be impossible to oversee the 600 prisoners she was tasked with watching under the conditions at the facility.

“We’re supposed to have 100 plus officers working but only 24 were,” she said. “I’m going to be homeless next month because I don’t have a job now.”

In Georgia, Christopher Nicholas Carroll, 37, was serving a sentence at the Lamar County Jail for selling stolen merchandise when he broke through a pair of walls and squeezed through a fence on December 28, 2017, escaping first in a county vehicle and later in a truck stolen from a local residence. After a three-day manhunt, Carroll was recaptured in his native South Carolina.

Another escape attempt took place at the Bedford County Jail in Shelbyville, Tennessee on October 19, 2017. According to News Channel 5, three detainees used a rope made of sheets to climb into ventilation ductwork and then out a vent on an exterior wall.

Kevin Lane Farrar, 44, who was being held on aggravated assault charges, was captured early the next day. James David Stinnett, 27, and Andrew Phillip Marshall, 18, both jailed on misdemeanor charges, were later captured – Stinnett in Alabama on October 23, 2017 and Marshall in Texas on February 27, 2018. It was Marshall’s fourth escape in eight months and his sixth since 2012.

Also recaptured after a repeat escape was Jimmy Causey, 46, who was arrested in Texas two days after he fled on July 5, 2017 from the Lieber Correctional Institution in South Carolina. Causey had previously escaped the Broad River Correctional Institution in 2006 by hiding in a trash truck. This time he reportedly used a cell phone and wire cutters that had been smuggled into the prison via a drone.

After his first escape, Causey was on the run for three days before he was apprehended when law enforcement received a tip. Another tip led to his recapture this time. In both escapes, Causey had fooled guards conducting a bed count by leaving a fake head in his bunk.

A prisoner who escaped from the Bolduc Correctional Facility in Maine on October 11, 2017 was apprehended soon after fleeing. Jason Brown, 33, was serving a seven-year sentence for arson when he walked away from the minimum-security facility. He was caught just a few hours later.

Two detainees who broke out from an Oklahoma jail are not on the run, having returned to the facility. Harley Davidson and Rakeem Lennox left the Choctaw County Jail around 10:30 p.m. on October 11, 2017. They were trustees, with access to more privileges than other detainees. According to Choctaw County Sheriff Terry Park, the pair stole a key to the laundry room, left for about two hours to smoke marijuana with their girlfriends, then came back. The two-hour party break will cost them, though; both have been charged with escape.

A day later, on October 12, 2017, detainee Gregory Bowling, 44, used an old trick to abscond from the Franklin County Regional Jail in Kentucky. According to jailer Rick Rogers, Bowling impersonated a prisoner who was to be freed on bond. He was “inadvertently released” before being discovered missing shortly thereafter. Bowling, who was being held on a failure to appear charge, was recaptured two days later when a driver who gave him a ride recognized him from a TV news show. He now faces felony escape charges.

Dylan Farber, 30, escaped from a jail in Dodge County, Wisconsin on October 13, 2017 but didn’t stay free for long. He was caught about 12 hours later, when Wauwatosa police officers received multiple tips describing someone matching his description.

Two detainees who escaped from the Pemiscot County Jail in Caruthersville, Missouri on October 15, 2017 were recaptured within a week in New Orleans. William Carter, 27, was being held on first-degree murder charges after allegedly running down his estranged wife and her companion with a vehicle, killing them both. Joseph Latamondeer, 41, faced charges of kidnapping and violent domestic assault. Jail officials did not say how they escaped.

In Marshall County, Alabama, one detainee who fled from a county jail was caught and two others remain on the run. According to the Sand Mountain Reporter, Jose Gilberton Rodriguez, 32, Abraham Lopez, 29, and Jose G. Martinez, 36, all jailed on drug charges, broke out on October 22, 2017. While Martinez was apprehended the next day, Lopez and Rodriguez are still at large. Further, two people who allegedly helped them abscond face criminal charges. Belinda May Houk and Hilario Carmona were both charged with aiding Martinez in the escape attempt.

A trio of prisoners broke out of a jail in Wakulla County, Texas through the ceiling in the facility’s law library, the sheriff’s office reported. The November 17, 2017 incident involved detainees Joel Teraill Cooper, Donald James Cotterman and Casey Martina Brandon. All three had been captured by March 2018: Brandon was apprehended in Rockwell, North Carolina; Cooper was caught in Phoenix, Arizona; and Cotterman was arrested by the U.S. Marshals in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

On November 22, 2017, Shane Anthony Vernon, 27, was captured in DeKalb County, Georgia, just three days after his second escape in three weeks from the Coosa County Jail in Montgomery, Alabama. In his first attempt on October 29, Vernon freed himself from restraints during booking. He was captured the following day. He crawled through the jail’s ceiling during his second escape, according to Sheriff Terry Wilson. He then broke into a home, tied up the residents and stole their car. After he crashed in a wooded area north of the city, he was able to evade police until he reached DeKalb County, 150 miles away.

Three prisoners charged with capital murder – Luis Antonio Arroyo, Eric Trevino and Jacob Anthony Brownson – fled from the Bexar County Detention Center in Texas in March 2018. Sheriff Javier Salazar said they cut through mesh in a recreation area, climbed onto a roof and then lowered themselves to a waiting vehicle. The San Antonio Police Department, the Department of Public Safety and the Lone Star Fugitive Task Force responded to the escape, and the trio and their suspected getaway driver were caught in less than an hour.

And on April 19, 2018, a female prisoner escaped from the Robert E. Ellsworth Correctional Center in Wisconsin. Christine Abel, 26, is a suspect in the theft of a pickup truck taken from a home near the prison shortly after she absconded. She was serving time for felony burglary charges and had a 2020 release date.

This rash of escapes has not escaped the attention of lawmakers.

In the aftermath of the deadly escape attempt in North Carolina, officials have called for an investigation into problems in the state’s prison system. Rep. Bob Steinburg is seeking the establishment of a commission to take a hard look at what is happening in North Carolina prisons, and the North Carolina Police Benevolent Association (PBA) supports his efforts.

“The time is now to address these issues before we have another death,” said PBA division president Randy Byrd.

Nor is the problem limited to state prisons and local jails. The Oversight and Government Reform Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives is reviewing some $2 million in bonus payments to upper-level staff of the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), despite chronic understaffing that has sometimes put untrained medical employees on guard duty.

Guard towers at some BOP facilities remain empty due to the staffing problems, with prison officials relying on perimeter fences to prevent escapes – a practice that drew scrutiny from the Homeland Security Committee of the U.S. Senate after convicted carjacker Guaymar Cabrera Hernandez made his way past three fences in May 2017 when he absconded from a maximum-security federal penitentiary in Atwater, California.

Hernandez, who was injured by razor wire on the fences, was later recaptured. But Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke said he and other local law enforcement officials were not immediately notified about the escape.

Joe Rojas, president of the union representing guards at the BOP’s facility in Coleman, Florida, said unstaffed guard towers make it especially stressful for his members who work at the 2,600-bed maximum-security prison. 

“I think everybody would rather have eyes, ears and boots on the ground rather than rely on a fence,” he said.

Another federal prisoner, Charles K. Smith, 64, escaped from FCI La Tuna in Texas on August 16, 2017; he was serving 94 months for possession of a stolen vehicle, and was arrested in Louisiana. Smith was sentenced on April 20, 2018 to an additional 30 months in prison for his short-lived escape. 


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