TAMPA — They were their own motley crew, investigators say — most members of different gangs — all charged with serious crimes.
Hillsborough County Sheriff's detectives charged five juveniles Thursday whom they say spent two weeks to a month inside the Orient Road Jail hatching an escape plan that included murdering a detention deputy.
"We were close," said Col. Jim Previtera, the jail's commander. "We have reason to believe they were going to execute their plan not long after we discovered what was going on."
Ronald Ball, 17, had someone on the outside devise an escape route from the jail by scanning the building on Google Earth, Previtera said.
Detectives said Ball went to work assembling a team to pull off a daring getaway.
Keen skills of observation by the deputies, Previtera said, foiled the attempt. Only 18 hours earlier, they noticed small changes in attire and behavior of some of the inmates in the 48-prisoner pod.
On March 15, some inmates had clogged the toilets and flooded their cells, leading deputies to wonder why they would want to get deputies into the cells, Previtera explained.
"So they started asking questions," he said.
It became evident something bigger was going on, so the deputies called Previtera in at 1 p.m. and he ordered the Hillsborough County Jail Tactical Apprehension and Control Team to lock down the pod and search it.
TACT turned up razor blades hidden beneath toilet paper molded to look like caulk on the window sills, and they found a home made knife or "shank" on "Note 14'' gang member Luis Adam Juarez, 16, Previtera said.
When sheriff's detectives began questioning everyone in the pod, several witnesses came forward, said Detective Wayne Bunton, who took the lead on the case.
Bunton said during the investigation that Juarez, who was already charged with attempted first degree murder, told investigators he had been recruited by Ball, 17, a Bloods gang member, and 17-year-old Esteban Rivera, a Raw Dawgz gang member, to slash a deputy's throat during an escape attempt.
"He basically volunteered," Previtera said.
Detectives said Ball also recruited 17-year-old David Serrano, the pod trustee responsible for helping deputies manage activities such as meals and clean up, to provide the plotters with disposable razors he issued and then collected from inmates.
Eric Munoz, 17, a member of the Latin Life gang, was responsible for using the razors to make the shank, deputies said.
The plan was to lure a deputy into the cell, tackle him, slash his throat, take his keys and escape through the recreation yard, Bunton said.
"To be honest, it just wouldn't have worked," Previtera said. "We have many more layers of security than that." But he admitted that they may have been able to murder the deputy.
The frightening plot changed a number of jail policies including: inmates are now only given disposable razors when they have a court appearance; juveniles in lockdown are taken to the Falkenburg Road Jail; and juvenile detention deputies now oversee pods two at a time.
Rivera, Juarez and Munoz remain in lockdown in the Falkenburg Road Jail awaiting trials on other charges. Ball and Serrano are in the custody of the Florida Department of Corrections, but will return to Hillsborough County to face the new charges.
All the young men were charged with conspiracy to commit murder in the first degree of a law enforcement officer and conspiracy to escape from confinement.
Munoz faces the additional charge of introducing contraband into a facility.
Times staff writer Robbyn Mitchell can be reached at (813) 226-3373 or [email protected]