Undersheriff: Outdated facility played role in Calif. inmate escape

"It's not correctional grade in any way," Merced County Undersheriff Corey Gibson said at a news conference


By Shawn Jansen
Merced Sun-Star 
        
MERCED, Calif. — Merced County Undersheriff Corey Gibson cited an outdated facility as one of the main reasons an inmate was able to escape from the John Latorraca Correctional Center this week.

Charlie Everitt, who goes by the nickname Mikey, escaped from the jail located on Sandy Mush Road in Merced at approximately 8 p.m. on Monday.

"He was able to break through several layers of building material, get to the roof and then he was able to defeat the perimeter fence and escape," Gibson said during a press conference on Wednesday afternoon in front of the sheriff's office. "We have detectives working with a variety of agencies, including the U.S. Marshall's Office, to try to apprehend the subject."

John Latorraca Correctional Center was built in 1991 and was originally designed to house inmates overnight.
John Latorraca Correctional Center was built in 1991 and was originally designed to house inmates overnight. (Merced County Sheriff's Office)

Gibson said the John Latorraca Correctional Center can house as many as 563 inmates and currently houses about 400.

The facility was built in 1991 and was originally designed to house inmates over the weekend or overnight.

"It's built with drywall and wooden materials," Gibson said. "It's not correctional grade in any way. It was built by a construction company that built high schools."

Gibson said the state awarded Merced County $40 million in 2015 to remodel the facility, but because of delays at the state level and local delays the construction of the project hasn't started.

"It's extremely frustrating with the changes of the state law that have allowed more violent inmates to be housed locally," Gibson said. "It's caused us tremendous problems when it comes to dealing with security at the facilities. It generally has about 20 inmates in each dorm for a variety of violent charges and now you're having to enter those facilities — the facility is constantly being manipulated and being destroyed by the inmates. It just becomes problematic and it's a constant battle for correctional staff."

Escapee was awaiting trial

Gibson said Everitt was about a month or so away from facing a jury trial for charges of driving under the influence of drugs with bodily injury, gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and other felony enhancements. Two people were killed after a head-on crash with a vehicle driven by Everitt on Oct. 24, 2019 on Santa Fe Drive near East Avenue.

With most of the inmates housed in a dorm-like setting at the John Latorraca Correctional Center, it was possible more inmates could have escaped with Everitt.

"The others decided to stay, essentially," Gibson said. "There wasn't a plan. Multiple (inmates) could have tried to escape but only one attempted to escape.

"The big concern is we have an escaped inmate," Gibson added. "It wasn't a violent crime that he went out and premeditated, but obviously he was a drunk driver and we don't want him out drinking and driving and harming another person."

Gibson declined to comment when asked if Everitt received help in his escape. He said correctional officers knew Everitt was gone within 47 minutes of the escape.

Gibson said security checks are done every hour.

Escapes were more common a decade ago

Gibson said there were more escapes from the facility in 2010 and 2012.

"We did some things to harden the facility, adding some additional fencing and razor wire and those types of things," he said. "We stepped up security checks and that has stopped a lot of it over the last past couple years, but as we've seen now, taken more sophisticated type inmates, we've seen obviously more escapes."

Gibson said the 2015 remodel plan for the Latorraca facility includes adding correctional-grade materials like concrete and steel. Currently the facility has porcelain sinks and porcelain toilets that Gibson said inmates can break off and use to assist in escaping.

"I think what the escape does is highlights the deficiencies of the facility and what we've done is we've had ongoing discussions with the county," Gibson said. "As soon as this escape happens, obviously we're back discussing with the county the priority and looking at ... doing a solid investment of public safety and security in correction facilities because that hasn't been done in this county for some time."

Everitt's escape comes on the heels of a July 2020 breakout at the Merced County Main Jail. The Merced County Sheriff's Office is still trying to apprehend Manuel Allen Leon, 21, of Vallejo and Jorge Barron, 20, of Atwater, who were part of the six inmates who escaped then.

"We're working with the U.S. Marshalls," Gibson said. "We don't believe they're local but we are working diligently to try to bring them back in."

Anyone with information on the whereabouts of Everitt is asked to contact the Merced County Sheriff's Office at 209-385-7445. Information can remain anonymous.
     
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