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U.S. Marshals Pull Out of Virginia Jail After Two Escapes in One Day

After two detainees escaped from Virginia’s Piedmont Regional Jail (PRJ) on April 30, 2022, the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) announced it was relocating its detainees while the jail “works to improve security measures.” This is bad news for PRJ: It receives $50 per day for up to 200 federal detainees held there, according to its most recent intergovernmental agreement. See: USMS Agreement No. 83-03-0018.

A PRJ statement read, “Based on the anticipated reduction, the PRJ Board is looking to make adjustments to the FY ’24 budget to include the anticipated reduction in expenditures and revenues.” How much of a reduction? According to Jail Authority Vice Chair Doug Stanley, federal detainees make up 42% of the jail’s population. So that “anticipated reduction” for the jail translates to about $2.7 million.

The escapes shone a bright light on PRJ’s security failures. Cellmates Bruce Callahan and Alder Marin-Sotelo walked out an unsecured door – though not together. Marin-Sotelo, 26, got out around 1:40 a.m. and scaled two perimeter fences before fleeing in a waiting red Ford Mustang. Callahan, 44, walked out near 11:00 p.m. the same day, also scaling fences to flee.

He remained at large over a week before he pulled a fire alarm on the nearby campus of Longwood University on May 8, 2023. He turned himself into responding police, who described him as “injured and in poor health.” Callahan pleaded guilty to escape on May 31, 2023, and was sentenced on June 27, 2023, to 20 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release. He was also ordered to pay a $100 special assessment. See: United States v. Callahan, USDC (E.D. Va.), Case No. 3:23-cr-00065. He still faces trial on the federal drug distribution and firearms charges for which he was originally detained. See: United States v. Callahan, USDC (E.D.N.C.), Case No. 7:21-cr-00138.

Marin-Sotelo was found and taken into custody by cops in the southwest Mexican state of Guerrero on May 4, 2023. His getaway car, however, was not found, and he has not been returned to the U.S. He and his brother, Auturo, were being held for the murder of a North Carolina sheriff’s deputy who pulled over their car in August 2022. Their sister, Adriana, has been arrested on charges of abetting the escape.

A statement issued by PRJ after the escapes said, “Initial findings suggest that the inmates were able to breach an exterior door at the facility.” Months earlier, Board meeting minutes of the PRJ Authority noted that replacing door locks was discussed. But jail officials stressed those were not the same doors that the detainees breached.

In a public meeting on May 17, 2023, jail officials admitted the escapes resulted from staff error. Jail Superintendent Jerry Townsend said there were five terminations and several demotions because of failures to adhere to policy. The day of the escapes, seven head counts were either missed or conducted improperly. Additionally, and most importantly, a guard had left the rear exit door unsecure. 

Additional sources: CBS News, Charlotte Observer, Farmville Herald, WRAL, WRIC, WTVD, WWBT