Former inmates: Supervision of Pa. jail 'trusties' lacking

Blame lack of supervision and no drug and alcohol screening or detox programs, as components that led to the escape of Robert Edward Crissman Jr.

By Brad Pedersen
The Leader Times

KITTANNING, Pa. — A pair of former Armstrong County Jail inmates blame a lack of supervision and security, and no drug and alcohol screening or detox programs, as key components that led to the escape of suspected killer Robert Edward Crissman Jr. on July 30.

In voluntary written statements to a private investigator, Nathaniel Cousins and Cory Kilgore say Crissman was outside of the jail unsupervised on the day he walked away and killed Tammy Long, 55, of Rayburn.

The investigator was hired by George Kontos, a Pittsburgh attorney who is expected to file a wrongful death suit against the county on behalf of Long's children, Tara and Todd Long of Kittanning.

“These two statements offer some very telling information about how there's an obvious lack of security and supervision at the jail,” Kontos said. “We're still tracking down additional witnesses, but I think these statements are only the tip of the iceberg.”

Crissman, 38, of Boggs is accused of killing Long and taking her truck after escaping from the jail. He was captured the next morning in Templeton and faces felony charges of criminal homicide, theft, aggravated assault and escape.

Cousins said he and another inmate were with Crissman when he walked away while delivering food to cells from a vendor outside the jail.

“When we got outside, we were not accompanied by any guards,” Cousins wrote in an Aug. 13 statement. “When the tray van came around the corner, Robert started running.”

Kilgore, who like Crissman was a trusty — an inmate without a violent past allowed to work within the jail grounds — said the incident of inmates roaming unsupervised was not a one-time occurrence limited to Crissman's escape.

“As a trusty, you are not supposed to leave the jail unsupervised,” Kilgore wrote. “Although there are surveillance cameras outside, I was let out to get trays unsupervised every time I went to get them. I could have walked away very easily.”

Cousins also wrote he believes Crissman, who has a history of drug charges, might have ran because he was suffering from withdrawal. He said inmates are given a physical and tuberculosis test within days of being admitted, but are not given drug screenings.

“There is no detox unit in the jail,” Crissman wrote. “I believe Crissman was withdrawing from drugs.”

Crissman's escape is being investigated by the Armstrong County district attorney, state police, and a private company hired by the prison board last week.

Prison Board President Rich Fink said he could not discuss the information released by Kontos.

“Their statements will be addressed at some point – probably in court – but for now, I'm not able to discuss this,” Fink said.

Since Crissman's escape, the trusty program has been suspended and the prison board has suspended Warden David Hogue without pay.

“I'm hopeful the prison Board will release the results of their investigation to the public, since it may provide us with additional leads,” Kontos said. “But so far, we are shocked to see the complete lack of meaningful supervision and security at this jail.”

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