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Second of 2 escaped NM inmates caught

COs are still struggling to answer embarrassing questions about the missteps that could have been made


This photo provided by the Albuquerque Police Department shows Lionel Clah being taken into custody by Albuquerque police Saturday, March 12, 2016. (AP Image)

Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.— The manhunt for the second of two New Mexico convicts ended Saturday in an Albuquerque apartment with the fugitive surrendering without a fight.

Uniformed officers were still waiting for tactical units to arrive when Lionel Clah suddenly exited the building, police spokesman Simon Drobik said.

The other convict, Joseph Cruz, was caught Friday.

“Clah literally walked out the front door and gave up,” police spokesman Simon Drobik said. “He basically said, ‘I don’t want anybody to get hurt.’”

A woman called 911 around noon and said she had been away from her home for two days and believed Clah was inside, Drobik said. Responding officers established a perimeter around the two-story apartment before entering.

Police went up a staircase and found a red shirt in an open bedroom. The shirt matched the one that Clah was seen wearing on surveillance video taken days earlier, Drobik said.

Officers then detected a strong odor of cigarettes behind the closed door of another bedroom. Drobik said they decided to go back outside and wait for tactical units rather than enter the room.

It was shortly after that when Clah, 29, appeared. He was subsequently cuffed and transferred into the custody of New Mexico State Police.

New Mexico State Police spokeswoman Elizabeth Armijo says their investigators are looking into whether the woman who lives in that apartment has a connection to Clah or if she assisted him. If so, she could face charges.

Clah will be turned back over to the state Department of Corrections after state police finish interviewing him. The agency will consult with prosecutors to determine charges for both convicts, Armijo said.

Saturday’s capture ends an expansive three-day manhunt for two prisoners that started in southern New Mexico.

Undeterred by shackles, and Clah, who has a violent history, and convicted murderer Cruz somehow slipped away in white prison jumpsuits and vanished into the night with no one noticing, possibly for hours. They hitched a ride and made it to Albuquerque around the same time that authorities notified the public of the escape.

Cruz, 32, was taken into custody in Albuquerque after a brief foot chase Friday evening, deputy federal marshal Ben Segotta said.

Corrections officials are still struggling to answer embarrassing questions about the missteps that could have been made, including how the men could escape when authorities say they were last accounted for in leg irons and belly chains. The questions only helped to highlight concerns raised in recent months as the department struggles with a budget crisis, a guard shortage, overworked employees and other problems.

Gregg Marcantel, the state corrections secretary, said two unidentified guards were placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation into the escape.

“Anything less would be remiss,” he said at a Friday press briefing.

State Police Chief Pete Kassetas wouldn’t say whether investigators had determined how Cruz, convicted in the death of a man over drugs in Raton, and Clah, who was serving time for armed robbery and shooting at a police officer, escaped the fortified prison van that was transporting them from the state penitentiary in Santa Fe to the southern region of the state.

Authorities raised the likelihood that the getaway happened at a gas station in Artesia, was planned and that the fugitives were receiving help from others. But they wouldn’t disclose what surveillance video from that gas station may have revealed.

“We’re definitely talking to family members, friends, associates, whatnot,” Kassetas said.

Cruz’s sister, Olivia Cruz, also was arrested Friday. According to state police, the 38-year-old woman had an outstanding warrant for possession of a controlled substance and is being held with no bond set. Investigators are looking into whether she had any involvement in the escape.

Standard precautions for transporting prison inmates include a search of each prisoner and the vehicle at each stop for clandestine tools or weapons, said Gary Klugiewicz, a former inmate transport trainer with security consultant Vistelar in Wisconsin. Officer fatigue and complacency can undermine security at the end of long a long trip, he said.

High-risk inmates should rarely — if ever — be allowed out of sight.

“What if they have a medical emergency?” he said. “If you’re sitting in a van, the point is, and you have a murderer behind you, how much would you have visual contact?”

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press

Sincere A. Harrison was charged with second-degree assault and first-degree promoting prison contraband
An apology should clearly project that you know right from wrong, nothing more
As three COs were subduing the inmate, he managed to escape their grasp and punched an officer in the eye
It is important that all staff know and follow their agency’s policies on security, inspections, contraband and escapes