Sheriff: Problems found in escape identified, fixed

The St. Mary Parish Law Enforcement Center in Centerville.
(The Daily Review Photo by Preston Gill)

St. Mary Parish Sheriff Mark Hebert

By PRESTON GILL pgill@daily-review.com

Without specifying details, St. Mary Parish Sheriff Mark Hebert said corrective measures have been taken for issues involved in the Feb. 2 escape of two prisoners through the ceiling of the St. Mary Parish Law Enforcement Center in Centerville.
The escape was the third since the prison opened May 15, 2000, Hebert said.
Hebert said within 24 hours “we took some action on things. We identified the problem and got it fixed.”
After each of the three escapes, “we took corrective action so as to ensure that an escape utilizing that scenario would not happen again.”
Hebert, the warden of the prison when it opened, said the first escape occurred a couple years after the prison was opened.
Hebert said the first escape was through the fence, but declined to speak about details of the second escape.
Former Sheriff David Naquin said the second escape was accomplished through a “ceiling penetration” and “the prisoners were cut up pretty badly” by razor wire at the fence, which was installed after the first escape.
Hebert said the issues involved in the second escape through the ceiling and razor wire was resolved.
The Feb. 2 escape involved accused murderer, Christopher Horton, and his neighboring cellmate Joshua Folks, a convicted thief, both awaiting trials, escaping around 10:30 p.m. after placing cement blocks in their bunks “to give the appearance someone was sleeping in the bunks,” according to an arrest affidavit. St. Mary Parish spokeswoman Traci Landry said the prisoners were discovered missing around 4 a.m.
The prisoners escaped through a hole they made in the ceiling leading to a crawl space, eventually making their way outside where they could be seen on video monitors running toward the railroad tracks behind the facility, the affidavit said.
A “be on the lookout” (BOLO) was issued round 8 a.m., nearly four hours after the prisoners were discovered missing and nearly 10 hours after the escape. Hebert stood by the initial justification of the timing of the BOLO.
“We cannot alarm the public falsely until we determine an escape has actually occurred,” Hebert said. “We had units patrolling in the area and units at the area schools. We were very visible that morning,” he said.
The prisoners were located two days later inside a tour bus and captured by Lafayette police, a Lafayette police affidavit said.
Patterson Police Chief Patrick LaSalle voiced his concern on the morning of the escape over how long it took to issue a BOLO, saying that it put the public at risk and made it less likely to have a quick capture of the inmate.
Sheriffs from Terrebonne, Lafourche, Assumption and Iberia parishes were asked about their detention facilities, security measures and policies for issuing escape advisories. None discussed the Centerville escape specifically.
The sheriffs or their spokesmen said they would attempt to get out a BOLO alert sooner rather than later if a prisoner escaped their facility.
Assumption Parish Sheriff Mike Waguespack said, “I believe in informing the public as soon as possible to let them know to be cautious and take safety measure with their families in their homes. Notifying the public gives law enforcement more eyes and ears in the community that can provide tips … therefore possibly apprehending the suspect in a more timely fashion, hopefully before he commits another crime.”
Terrebonne Parish Sheriff Larry Larpenter said his prison has little risk of escape, but if one occurred he would notify surrounding law enforcement agencies and schools within five minutes of discovering an inmate missing. The public would be notified with a news release shortly afterward, he said.
Mathew Brennan, Lafourche Parish Sheriff Craig Webre spokesman, said in an email, “We issue a BOLO when deemed necessary in any particular situation. The BOLO could be issued to law enforcement, schools, or other agencies as deemed necessary.”
Capt. Ryan Turner, former Iberia Parish sheriff spokesman, said each escape is different. A notification to local police agencies and to the public would be given quickly with the safety of the community foremost in mind as well as attempting the recapture of the inmate(s) as quickly as possible.
Hebert said every escape presents differing scenarios and how they are played out.
“It was issued as soon as I could,” Hebert said of the BOLO. “We got the message out in several ways.”
Capt. Joseph Young, of the Assumption Parish Sheriff’s Office, said in an email that he could not foresee cement blocks entering into a prison cell in Assumption Parish.
“We physically check each inmate … before they are placed back into the dorm,” Young said in the email. “We make it a habit not allowing such materials in an area where an inmate can access them.”
Hebert would not say how prisoners got cement blocks into the segregation cells. Those cells are separate from the 26-person dorms that house most of the prison’s 320-man population and the ceilings in those cells are lower, he said.
“The facility has plenty of cement. The walls are made of cement,” Hebert said. “I will not comment on something that will jeopardize the prosecution of the escape or the security of the building.”
Larpenter offered a tour of his 630-inmate facility near Houma where he has a control room with a correction officer 24-hours-a-day observing prisoners and guards by video monitoring. The feed from several security cameras is also seen in the warden’s office.
“All escapes from a prison are the result of human error, somebody not doing their job,” Larpenter said. “If I had an escape, I would probably fire somebody.”
Hebert would not comment on whether anyone at the prison was disciplined because of the escape.
“I am confident in the staff and the warden,” Hebert said. “We have a lot of experienced people working there and they are very diligent in what they do.” Prisoners in Centerville are accounted for through multiple methods several times daily, he said.
“We briefed and debriefed after the escape,” Hebert said. “We try to make sure we keep inmates where they belong. We are going to educate our people on what has happened and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Hebert said every prison is different, each requiring a different “game plan” on how it is administered.
“Certain people and certain areas are monitored 24/7,” Hebert said of the Centerville prison.
St. Mary Parish Clerk of Court records show Folks escaped four months before his Centerville escape from a mental health clinic in Alabama on Nov. 17. Horton spent several years in a state hospital undergoing treatment to restore him to sufficient mental health to stand trial.

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