Bureaucratic bungling allowed four inmates at the Prince George's County Detention Center to follow the same escape route used in a May breakout at the new jail, County Executive Parris Glendening said yesterday.
County Corrections Director Samuel F. Saxton said his department failed in the wake of the May 26 escape to purchase "unclimbable" wire fencing that could have prevented Tuesday night's escape of one of the prisoners. It was the third breakout from the six-month-old, state-of-the art jail. The $43 million facility houses 766 prisoners.
The four inmates at the Detention Center outside Upper Marlboro pried loose metal fencing at the top of the outdoor recreation yard wall and fled to fences that ring the facility.
Three of the four were quickly captured before leaving the jail grounds.
The fourth, Michael Mack Thompson, 24, of Landover, escaped and remained free for almost 24 hours before being captured without incident about 9:30 last night by Lt. Louis Ortley, a sheriff's deputy, who spotted him walking north along Marlboro-Ritchie Road near Brown Road, about three miles north of the jail, the county sheriff's department said.
Thompson, who had received serious cuts to his arm and legs while breaking through the fence, was admitted to the Prince George's Hospital Center, where he was listed in stable condition.
Thompson had recently begun serving a 17-year sentence for armed robbery and "store house breaking," sheriff's department officials said.
Two of the other inmates were captured Tuesday night as they tried to climb the second of two 12-foot-high perimeter fences, officials said. Another was captured before reaching either fence.
Two days after the May 26 escape, Saxton said the department would attach sharp "unclimbable" wire fencing on the inside of the outdoor recreation walls and on the inside of the two perimeter fences.
But yesterday, with an "angry" county executive at his side, Saxton said at a news conference that the fencing was not purchased because of bureaucratic obstacles.
"If you need somebody to blame, then blame me," Saxton said. "I'm the director here."
Glendening said he was "quite angry and frustrated" to find that additional security measures ordered after the May 26 escape had not been implemented. "The situation is flat-out unacceptable," he said.
The county executive, who hired Saxton to run the often-troubled county Corrections Department in 1983, said he is appointing an aide from his office "to oversee the improvements that are needed."
But Glendening, who refused to accept Saxton's resignation in April when the tough-talking corrections chief was embroiled in a dispute with a County Council member over jail operations, said that he still has complete confidence in Saxton.
Glendening said the need to follow county procurement procedures and state corrections regulations caused the three-month delay in purchasing the fencing.
"The government simply did not move fast enough," Glendening said.
The county executive promised that the county will move faster now and that the fence, which Saxton estimated would cost $70,000, could be installed by Monday morning.
To accomplish that, Glendening said, he will suspend usual procurement procedures and take verbal bids on the special fencing today and that a contract will be awarded immediately to the low bidder who can meet the Monday deadline.
Saxton said that some measures taken after the May 26 escape were implemented, including ironing out problems in the motion-detection system. That system alerted officers Tuesday night and led within six minutes to the capture of three of the four escaping inmates.
The inmates captured Tuesday night -- Leonard Sylvanius Jordan, 24, Samuel William Brown Jr., 18, and Larry James Simpson, 29, -- were being held in a housing unit where one officer is responsible for monitoring 60 inmates.
About 10 p.m. Tuesday, the four inmates were among a group of prisoners in a recreational courtyard that is not in full view of a guard. They apparently scaled a 12-foot brick wall and went through an eight-foot chain-link fence on top.
Officials said the prisoners split into groups of two and fled in opposite directions across an open area leading to the perimeter fences about 25 to 50 yards away.
They were detected by underground sensors that alerted guards on the inside of the jail and one guard with a radio who roves outside the perimeter fences, officials said.
Two of the inmates, who suffered injuries from the razor-sharp wire, were captured in an eight-foot space between the two perimeter fences. The third was captured before he reached the fences.
Until the new special fencing is in place, Glendening said, inmates will no longer be allowed in the outdoor recreation areas without supervision. Correctional officers also will be required to work overtime to help with supervised recreation periods and to provide additional perimeter patrols.
The three men who were captured trying to escape on Tuesday night had either recently received stiff sentences for violent crimes or were awaiting trial on charges involving violent crimes.
All four men were housed in the facility's general population area, which is considered a minimum-to-medium-security housing unit, corrections officials said. Saxton said he believes all four were housed correctly.
Simpson was sentenced last Thursday in Circuit Court to life plus 40 years in prison for the 1983 slaying of a Radio Shack salesman. Simpson was scheduled to be transferred to the state prison system today, officials said.
Simpson was serving a sentence of 10 to 30 years for robbery at the D.C. maximum-security facility at Lorton before he was extradited to the county in May, officials said.
Brown, of Landover, is awaiting trial for attempted murder, assault with intent to rob, attempted robbery with a deadly weapon, assault and battery, grand theft and illegal use of a handgun. Brown is being held in lieu of $30,000 bond.
Jordan, of Greenbelt, was being held on a $50,000 bond for second-degree rape and burglary.
All three men and Thompson have been charged with one count of escape, Saxton said.