OCCC adds patrols, checks wire fencing
By Walter Wright
Advertiser Staff Writer
Armed corrections officers in two patrol vehicles have been assigned to circle the perimeter of the O'ahu Community Correctional Center in the wake of the March 21 escape of two inmates, officials said yesterday.
The prison has also moved razor wire from some interior fences to further secure the perimeter and close off an interior fenced area the inmates used as part of their escape route last month, Deputy Warden Francis Sequeira said yesterday.
An investigation into why one corrections officer allowed prisoner Paul Damas out of his cell when the guard did not have back up is still under way, Sequeira said. Damas gained access to a control panel and let two other inmates out of their cells.
Eric K. Vance, who had been charged with murder in the shooting of a Kane'ohe liquor store owner, and Kerbert Silva, who had escaped from the prison once before in January, escaped by scaling two razor-wire fences. They made it over the prison roofs and over the outer fence, despite being fired on by guards in the OCCC towers. They were captured by police within hours. Damas was caught inside the facility.
Both the guard and his supervisor were placed on administrative leave without pay for 30 days after the escape. The investigation into their actions could lead to administrative discipline, the deputy warden said.
"The procedures in the area were sound; they just weren't being followed," Sequeira said. "The procedures have been reiterated, and all the staff manning the holding area have been told again what the expectations are."
The guard has said the supervisor told him to let the inmate out to make a telephone call, even though the supervisor was leaving the area and could not provide back up, Sequeira said. But the supervisor denies that account and says the decision was made by the guard alone.
"In theory, inmates should not come out of their cells when there is only one officer on the floor," the deputy warden said. "In this case, the officer may have felt comfortable, but we are still asking, 'Why did this happen, why did you let him out of his cell?' "
A claim by the officer that a lock to a control room was welded open has proved not to be true, Sequeira said: "The equipment was working fine."
The escapees' own account of the breakout is being used to guide the facility in some of the changes being made, Sequeira said.
"We have refortified the perimeter fence with more razor wire, putting in at least a couple hundred yards," he said. "We had some spare razor wire on hand, just a little bit, and we are cannibalizing some razor wire installed years ago, in areas now protected by fences built later."
The razor wire strands at the outer fence where the two men escaped were spaced too far apart, so that the smaller of the two, Silva, was able to get through unscathed.
Vance, a larger man, was injured by the wire.
Razor wire has also been placed on both sides of an interior fenced area that the inmates were able to break into and escape from because razor wire protected only one side of the fence, Sequeira said.
But the facility has not undertaken the "extensive cost" of an estimated $250,000 to put an additional strand of wire around the entire prison.
Other steps taken as a result of a security review in the wake of the most recent escape include removing some materials from the prison's industrial-shops area that could be used in an escape, and re-evaluating a new video surveillance system to eliminate blind spots in the system on the Pu'uhale Road side of the facility, he said.
The question of whether additional guard towers are needed has been put on a back burner while immediate improvements take place, Sequeira said.
Sequeira said he and Warden Clayton Frank and other administrators at the facility recognize that they are responsible for what takes place there, and are re-evaluating their own actions.
"We all are under scrutiny, and have been meeting on a weekly basis on security issues addressing the escape and other matters," he said. "We are trying to address what we have to do."
The Public Safety Department has agreed to divert money from other areas to finance the security changes being made, Sequeira said, because OCCC doesn't have enough money in its current budget.