The Hollywood-esque jail break of three inmates at a Southern California maximum-security facility on Jan. 22 has left authorities piecing together the details of their elaborate plan and still searching for the escapees.
Jonathan Tieu, 20, Bac Duong, 43, and Hossein Nayeri, 37, were all awaiting trial for violent —unconnected— crimes when they busted out of the joint in an action-movie kind of way: Cutting through metal, slinking through plumbing tunnels and rappelling four stories from a rope finagled out of bed sheets.
The inmates had access to tools that eased their escape and due to head count delays, weren't noticed missing for at least 16 hours.
All that left us wondering, what's stopping inmates at our local jails from getting their Shawshank Redemption schemes going?
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri and Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office Major Mike Perotti weighed in on how the Pinellas County and Hillsborough jails keep the escape plots in check.
They happen every shift change, Gualtieri and Perotti both said, at least twice daily, and they're taken so seriously that the whole jail is on lock down until every one is accounted for. No one leaves, including employees, until the head count matches up with the computer.
Perotti said that in the Hillsborough jail's pods where the inmates live, there's a deputy inside with them seven days a week. Nobody comes or goes from the pod without the deputy knowing.
Sometimes, the computer and the head counts don't match up. It's treated as a serious situation, but usually has a logical, administrative answer — inmates are either being transferred somewhere or the computer system is updating. Either way, no one leaves until everything lines back up.
Obviously, the California inmates had a little help getting the tools they needed to cut through quarter-inch-thick grills on the jail walls. Those sort of supplies aren't typically issued to inmates for understandable reasons. So how does the jail control what comes in and out of their facility?
Simple. Visitors don't have access to the jails. The jails use a video visitation system to limit who can go in and out.
The jails allow only professional visitors to enter the jail — think lawyers, psychiatrists, etc.
"I'd love to be able to tell you that every single jail, including ours, doesn't have contraband, but I can't and won't," Gualtieri said. "But, we've taken great steps to minimize the amount that comes into our jail."
Perotti said strip searches are conducted when an inmate leaves the jail (for any reason) and comes back. Searches and "shakedowns" happen frequently in the inmates' pods to keep contraband in check.
Uniforms and IDs:
It seems like a silly question, but is it possible to mix up which inmates are which? Silly maybe, but valid, because it has happened before. In April 2002, an inmate at the Orient Road Jail in Tampa slipped on the uniform for a trusted inmate and moseyed out the door.
That sort of slyness wouldn't work these days at the Pinellas or Hillsborough jails, both Gualtieri and Perotti say.
All inmates wear ID badges with their names, photos and barcodes that scan their ID number, and different types of inmates are required to wear certain colored uniforms
Tampa Bay has seen a few other escapee situations before.
In 2004 Timothy Humphrey was on the loose for about three hours after escaping from Pinellas County Jail parking lot when transportation deputies left him unattended in the van. He loosened some bolts on the van's door, kicked it open and sprinted through the open gate.
Raymond W. Marston Jr. escaped Falkenburg Road Jail in October 2008 after he shimmied up a drainpipe, ducked through razor wire and traversed the roof of a building in the jail compound. He escaped through a construction site at the end of the facility.
More recently, in March 2014 Jeffrey Robert Stafford escaped Orient Road Jail right before he was about to be transferred to Polk. Stafford entered a vestibule with another inmate who was being legitimately released, and left with that person through the jail lobby.
Contact Hanna Marcus at [email protected] or (727)-893-8603). Follow @hannaemarcus.