KINGMAN - Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan's appearance before the Mohave County Board of Supervisors Monday yielded little if any new information about the systematic failures that led to the escape of three inmates July 30.
Ryan admitted, however, that ADOC officials violated regulations when they failed to notify the Legislature, the Board of Supervisors or the public when approval was given to change the classification of the Kingman prison from DUI offenders to general population May 12, 2005, and again when murderers were first moved to the prison beginning Dec. 13, 2007.
Ryan said the change from DUI offenders to a general population was made by former Director Dora Schriro because there weren't enough DUI offenders to fill the prison.
While the prison was always classified to hold minimum- to medium-custody inmates, Ryan admitted that a lack of training for the staff led to what he perceived as personnel treating all of the inmates as if they were minimum security.
An audit by the ADOC in the days following the escape found numerous security deficiencies, including a security alarm that malfunctioned so often it was simply ignored.
A timeline for corrective action was given to Management and Training Corporation, the private company that operates the prison, but Ryan admitted to the board during his presentation that many of the deficiencies found still existed as of Aug. 30.
More than 155 violent offenders have been transferred out of the prison since the escape.
"No new inmates will be assigned to Kingman until MTC is in full compliance," Ryan said.
Much of Ryan's hour-long presentation focused on information already released by the department or by media outlets. Sheriff Tom Sheahan, County Attorney Matt Smith and Mayor John Salem sat on the panel with the board and asked questions following the presentation, but no comments or questions from the public were taken.
No one from MTC spoke before the board, although MTC vice-president Odie Washington was in attendance.
Ryan met informally with reporters after the presentation but cut questions short after less than 10 minutes.
Changes since escape
Ryan said a number of changes have been instituted since the escape, including a overhaul of the entire alarm system on the prison's perimeter. He said the system was not properly installed in 2004, which led to numerous false alarms over the last two and a half years, to the point that prison officials simply ignored the alarm when it sounded.
The alarm system is slated for replacement Sept. 27. Ryan had no answers as to why the faulty alarm system and other security deficiencies weren't noted by investigators following a riot that broke out at the prison two months before the escape. He did say that the onsite monitor for the Department of Corrections at the prison has been fired.
Hualapai Unit Warden Lori Leader, her security chief, and Complex Warden Darla Elliott have all been either fired or resigned from the facility, though it's not clear if they will be eligible to take positions elsewhere within MTC.
MTC officials declined to say if or how many correction officers had been fired since the escape, citing personnel issues.
The three county supervisors generally made comments to Ryan than actually questioning him. Supervisor Buster Johnson asked about the amount of force that could be used against those trying to escape, while Supervisor Gary Watson suggested to Ryan that the ADOC might consider creating a "scent bank" in which the smell of an inmate could be catalogued and used by K-9s for future escapees.
Sheahan said that as sheriff, he was concerned about the delay in notifying local authorities after the escape. Ryan said the inmates were first noticed missing around 9:40 p.m. A 30-inch by 22-inch hole was discovered in the fence around 10:06 p.m. The Sheriff's Office was notified at 10:30 p.m., with the first media advisories going out at 2:54 a.m. "This and subsequent notifications were all later than acceptable," Ryan said.
Sheahan said that when the first 911 call came in from the prison, the caller didn't know the names or race of the missing inmates. "He only knew they were wearing orange," Sheahan said. He added that photos of the inmates provided by the prison were more than a decade old, and in one case, almost 20 years old. Ryan said that has been changed and that all photos of inmates are now current up to five years.
Sheahan also questioned what sort of background check was done on prison staff. He said he knew of at least a handful of former employees of his detention staff who had been fired by the Sheriff's Office. He said no one from MTC or ADOC called the Sheriff's Office for a reference check.
Ryan said criminal background checks are performed by ADOC, while MTC is responsible for checking the references and past employment of personnel.
County Manager Ron Walker said the county is keeping a running tab of all expenses incurred on its part as a result of the escape. This would include prosecution of the three inmates and their accomplice on escape and assault charges.
Ryan said one of the biggest procedural changes made since the escape has been modifying the chain of command for the inspection process so that the ADOC onsite monitor now reports directly to him and the inspector general's office.
Documents released by the ADOC to the media after the presentation indicate that John McCluskey was the purported mastermind of the escape. In an interview with Daniel Renwick, he told investigators that they watched guards' movements over a period of time and determined the best time to break out of the prison would be around 9:45 p.m. The trio, including inmate John Province, all met at the appointed time but were delayed for some reason. McCluskey then used a cell phone to call his fiancée, Casslyn Welch, who was driving up to the prison.
The cell phone was obtained from another inmate in the yard who used it for drug dealing. Ryan had no answer when asked after Monday's presentation how a cell phone made it into the prison or had gone unnoticed by personnel.
Renwick said that once they saw Welch approaching, they climbed a 9-foot-high fence and proceeded to the perimeter fence. Welch then reportedly threw wire cutters and two handguns over the fence. The wire cutters were discovered by prison officials next to the hole in the fence a short time later. Renwick said it took less than two minutes to cut the fence.
Once the four got out into the desert, they were unable to find the getaway car. After several minutes of looking, the group split, with McCluskey, Welch and Province in one group and Renwick in the other.
Renwick eventually found the car, which was stocked with food, clothing, guns and drugs. He told investigators that he looked for the others but then drove off after he felt "time was running out on him." The other three eventually walked to Interstate 40, where they hijacked two truckers who had pulled over to switch shifts.