County launches investigation into jail events

By Sharna Johnson: Freedom Newspapers

CLOVIS — The escape of a prisoner and the stabbing of an inmate in recent days have prompted investigations aimed at Curry County Adult Detention Center officials, according to state and county officials.

District Attorney Matt Chandler and Curry County Sheriff Roger Hatcher on Wednesday called for prompt corrective action to prevent repeats of the incidents. Their agencies are conducting a joint criminal investigation into the stabbing and trying to determine how a convicted felon escaped from the jail and why that escape went unreported for nearly two days.

“The jail is the responsibility of the county administration and the county commissioners, and I am fully convinced that the county commissioners are going to do a full investigation to determine why incidents such as the ones we have seen in the last week have occurred and not been reported,” Chandler said. “But the actions that they do take must be swift because we cannot afford any more escapes or incidents of violence to occur.”

Simultaneously, an administrative investigation is being conducted by jail Administrator Leslie Johnson into what mistakes were made and who is responsible, she said.

“We have identified the errors that occurred and the time they occurred. There is no indication of staff involvement (in the escape),” she said Wednesday.

She said it was too early to say where responsibility lies for the mistakes and declined to identify the mistakes until the investigation is concluded.
Hatcher said law enforcement investigators are looking to see who, including center employees, might have assisted in the escape.

He declined to say if criminal charges are pending against personnel for failing to report the escape sooner and said investigators are looking at “everything.”

“(Detention center employees) have a duty to report (escapes) because now we have an escaped felon on the streets,” he said.

“I heard some lame excuses, but there is no excuse for not reporting a criminal act in the detention center. The escape (was bad enough), but to have a stabbing occur in the same time frame and for them to not notify us, there’s absolutely no reason for that. It’s outside the bounds of reason to delay (the investigation on the escape), but to do what they did in addition to that …”

A criminal complaint filed Tuesday said detention officers went to the escaped inmate’s home of record to search for him.

Hatcher said detention center officers had no authority to go out into the community looking for him and risked civil liability in doing so.

“I can only imagine what could have happened if the suspect was there and they tried to apprehend him. They have no jurisdiction outside the facility. They have been informed of that but it appears it falls on deaf ears. I don’t know what (they thought) they were going to do if they (found) him,” he said.

Johnson said around 3 p.m. Monday one of her officers volunteered to drive by Rodriguez’ home and see if there was any activity there. He went only to make observations and returned with nothing unusual to report, she said. At the same time she was calling law enforcement to let them know of the escape, she said.

Dispatch call logs show law enforcement was called by the jail just before 5 p.m.

“There should be no question when a criminal offense takes place in the jail. (Law enforcement) needs to be notified immediately to secure the crime scene. If we can’t, it makes it very difficult to prosecute. Why hamstring yourself?” Hatcher said in reference to law enforcement being made aware of the stabbing approximately six hours after it occurred.

Johnson said London Word, 20, was immediately transported to the hospital because he was injured, but that jail staff did not know he had been stabbed and were looking into what had caused his injuries.

Demetrio Salas, 21, was arrested in connection with the stabbing on charges of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and possession of a deadly weapon by a prisoner.

Failure of detention officers to notice or report Saturday’s escape of 29-year-old Guadalupe Rodriguez for nearly two days pre-empted the investigations. The escape was reported to police Monday afternoon.

Rodriguez remained at large Wednesday. He was serving a 364-day sentence for burglary, unlawful taking of a motor vehicle and resisting, evading or obstructing an officer. He was scheduled to go to state prison to serve an additional four years after his local sentence was satisfied, records show.

Assistant County Manager Lance Pyle said when Johnson concludes her investigation into events surrounding the escape she has the option of recommending disciplinary actions against jail staff. If suspension, demotion or dismissal are recommended for staff members, Pyle said he will conduct hearings with the individuals in question and reach a conclusion.

“Warden Johnson is investigating if an employee did something they should not have done. … She is the warden that oversees the detention center, (and) she’s looking into the situation. That’s her job as a manager — these employees report direct to her,” he said.