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Blame is plentiful in escape of jail inmate

There are plenty of scapegoats surrounding the escape of a career criminal last month from the Pasco County Detention Center in Land O' Lakes.

The Sheriff's Office announced this week it had severed ties with two corrections officers, but dumping the blame entirely on departed guards Ricardo Rivera and Harry Irizarry fails to take into account the Sheriff's Office's inadequate background check that allowed a flight risk to be housed in a minimum security annex.

Were Rivera and Irizarry remiss in performing their duties? There is no other explanation. Both counted 94 inmates when only 93 were present. The inability to do a proper bed check allowed escaped inmate Rory McGrory a head start significantly longer than deputies first announced the morning of Nov. 14.

The Sheriff's Office said McGrory fled sometime after the 11 p.m. bed check and wasn't discovered missing until 6 a.m. the next morning. After his recapture, McGrory, in a jail house interview with Times staff writer Thomas Lake, contradicted the official version and said he escaped hours earlier, but declined to say exactly when. The statements were published Saturday, Nov. 18, and the resignations came Nov. 21 and 22.

The Sheriff's Office now suspects McGrory fled shortly after dark, several hours before the 11 p.m. inmate count.

"We know he was gone long before they said they saw him,'' sheriff's spokesman Kevin Doll said Thursday.

Irizarry told investigators he didn't see McGrory's face during the bed check because the inmate's feet were facing him during the count. The episode hardly resembled Escape from Alcatraz. Doll acknowledged there were no artificial materials in McGrory's bunk to simulate the appearance of a body to fool the bed check.

Irizarry, in an interview with the Tampa Tribune, blamed the Sheriff's Office for putting a high-risk inmate in the annex. It's a valid point, but doesn't excuse his own poor performance. Still, sloppiness wasn't limited to the guards on duty at the time of the escape.

Detention deputies usually check for violent offenses in the past five years in determining whether an inmate qualifies to be housed in the minimum-security annex, which allows greater freedom than the interior jail pods. McGrory, whose rap sheet of 29 arrests over the past 25 years included aggravated battery and battery on a law officer, hadn't been charged with a violent crime in the past five years.

The explanation? He had been in the state prison system. The sheriff's inadequate policy on background checks allowed that detail to go undetected. McGrory was given trusty status and assigned to the minimum security tent.

The Sheriff's Office immediately changed its procedures after McGrory's escape. Corrections officers now are required to consult the state Department of Corrections Web site to see whether a trusty applicant has recently served prison time. Inmates charged with fleeing to elude will no longer be eligible. We trust other internal procedures are being reviewed for their relevancy as well.

Closing the jail door after the inmate escapes isn't an efficient way to run a detention center.