I admit that I haven't been following the story of escaped-and-recaptured death row inmate Charles Victor Thompson very closely, but I was struck with a thought as I read this front-page story on how "lack of supervision" may have led to his escape. I'll get to that thought in a second, but first, consider this:
A Harris County jailer with a long career in law enforcement and a union lawyer described an atmosphere at the jail in which detention officers routinely leave their posts before the end of their shifts — a factor Thompson may have capitalized on during his brazen escape from the facility at 1200 Baker.
The jailer, who did not want to be named for fear of retaliation, said some jailers play video games and nap while on duty. The jailer also contends that many routinely leave their posts unmanned well before their shifts are up.
"All of these things, I have personally seen," the jailer said.
A department spokesman said policy dictates that jail employees remain on duty until they are relieved, and the same rule applies to supervisors.
"I don't have any direct knowledge of people leaving early. Especially if they haven't been relieved," said Lt. John Martin, a spokesman for the Harris County Sheriff's Office, which operates the jail. "If that is the case, of course, we need to take appropriate administrative action."
Harris County's four jails are manned by deputies who are fully certified peace officers and unlicensed detention officers, the jailer said. Detention officers serve as rovers or as pod and day-room watchers. Pod watchers are assigned to control centers, or guard stations, and are responsible for monitoring dozens of prisoners at a time.
Rovers move about the jail, responding to emergencies or relieving pod watchers during breaks. Sergeants supervise the rovers and pod watchers.
Sergeants, however, report for work 30 minutes before the detention officers they oversee and leave 30 minutes sooner, the jailer said.
The veteran jailer said some rovers take advantage of the lack of supervision by leaving shortly after their bosses. The jailer suggested that such a lack of supervision, as well as a shortage of deputies around a shift change, may have contributed to the conditions that allowed Thompson to escape.
Richard Cobb, a Fraternal Order of Police lawyer, said there weren't enough deputies on duty to escort Thompson to see the attorney. He said no one was available to escort Thompson to the booth, so one deputy, on his way out for the day, offered to walk Thompson to the booth.
The jailer who spoke on condition of anonymity said rovers frequently must be reminded to lock the visitor's booth doors after escorting inmates to and from the rooms. The jailer also said pod watchers do not have keys to the interview rooms.
"So, a day-shift deputy relieves him and (the rover) just goes home," said the jailer. "And Thompson's just left in there, and the door's not locked just because nobody bothered to lock it."
After his meeting with the attorney, Thompson remained in the unlocked booth where he changed into civilian clothes and shed his handcuffs.
When Thomas does get around to answering questions about this, I hope one of them is whether he thinks the unsafe and overcrowded conditions at Harris County jails was a contributing factor in Thompson's escape. Sure is a good thing for Thomas that he was up for reelection in 2004 and not 2006, wouldn't you say?Posted by Charles Kuffner on November 13, 2005 to Crime and Punishment | TrackBack