By Anthony “Bubba” Mikesh, Texas Commission on Jail Standards
The escape incident that you are about to read about did not happen in a county jail located in the Great State of Texas. This escape incident comes to us from the State of Florida. I decided to give Texas jails “a rest.” But before I begin, I would like to emphasize to everyone that neither the county name nor any persons involved in this escape will be revealed. This is not an attempt to point fingers or “poke fun,” but rather to show an example of what can happen and what to be on the lookout for while on duty. All too often, correctional officers become complacent or too comfortable in their surroundings, and inevitably this “comfort” leads to mistakes that could be easily avoided.
Starting with a metal binder clip obtained from a guard, the escapee with the help of his cellmate used the flexible clip to cut off the edge of a metal speaker plate by slicing along the holes in the speaker plate.
The escapee turned the metal speaker plate into an effective saw blade measuring about 8 inches by 8 inches and used contraband to act as a handle for the saw (hardbound books smuggled through jail security by an unidentified accomplice). Gripping the saw blade between the pages of the hardcover book, the escapee fashioned a pry bar by cutting apart the quarter-inch-thick steel frame of their bunk bed. The gap measuring 6 3/4 inches by 1 1/8 inches was disguised by using more contraband (adhesive tape) to hold the bar in the bunk frame when it was not being used to take the sink apart. The inmates then used three extra bed sheets that were tied between the metal sink and steel desk to act as a “come along” which enabled the inmates to peel the metal of the toilet away from the enclosure.
First they opened the back of a toilet-paper holder set into the sink base. The opening, about the size of a coffee-can top, exposed a crawl space running through the jail’s outside wall for the cell's plumbing. Unable to see where the pipes ran, the escapee convinced inmates living in the cell above them to flood their toilet. That forced the jail's maintenance crew to open a two-story, garage-style door on the outside of the jail that covered the cellblock's plumbing. Outdoor light poured into the crawl space long enough for the inmates to spot half-inch iron bars that needed to be cut before they could reach the roll-up door to escape. After eventually cutting open the base of the sink, the escapee cut the iron security bars, slid through the narrow hole and found a lock hasp on the exterior door blocking his escape. Only one plasterboard screw had held the hasp in place since the jail was constructed in 1986. The inmate easily removed the hasp and scaled two razor wires fences to escape the secured perimeter. He is still on the run (as of press time) and is considered to be armed and dangerous. The escapee’s grandmother and father have been charged with aiding in his escape. Investigators believe he left Florida within hours of the escape by driving a car provided by his father. He was last seen in New Jersey on hotel surveillance cameras.
Records indicate that a corrections officer admitted supplying the binder clip, and as a result he was charged with aiding in the escape and remains in custody without bail.
Internal policies required all maximum-security cells to be searched twice every 12-hour shift by a three-member search team. The cellmate told sheriff's investigators that officers only searched the cell correctly a total of three times in two weeks before the escape; that was 53 times fewer than what jail policies stipulated. Investigators noted that when officers did search the cell, they let the escapee sit on the toilet with a towel covering the sink because he complained of diarrhea.
Among things the officers missed:
· A missing/damaged intercom speaker plate
· A severely damaged stainless-steel sink-and-toilet
· A binder clip fashioned into a cutting instrument and a crude 8-inch saw made from a speaker cover plate
· A number of removed screws from the cover of a large light fixture where the contraband tools were hidden
· A broken steel bar of the bunk held into place by adhesive tape when not in use
With little fear of detection, the escapee apparently spent time every day preparing for the escape.
Remember that complacency kills and is the enemy of both the staff and the public’s safety.
As with most escapes, there are several opportunities to prevent them from occurring. While the example presented appears to be an extreme case of everything going wrong, escapes from the secured perimeter, as opposed to a walk-off from an outside work detail, typically involve no less than three points where the escape could have been prevented. Discuss this incident with your fellow co-workers and identify the missed opportunities. Taking the time to review your own operations at your facility could possibly prevent something similar in the future.