Prison staff warned Danilo Cavalcante planned escape a month before he fled, emails show
The prison has made changes to the way it handles inmates at risk of escape, including assigning one or two COs to monitor inmates when they are outside of their cells
By Beatrice Forman, Vinny Vella
The Philadelphia Inquirer
PHILADELPHIA — A corrections officer at Chester County Prison warned staff that Danilo Cavalcante was preparing to escape weeks before he broke out, according to county officials.
“I am just sending this cause I don’t want this to come back on us or [Officer Gerardo] Hernandez in any way. He noted back in July that this inmate was planning an escape,” Sergeant Jerry Beavers wrote in an email to Captain Harry Griswold hours after Cavalcante escaped on Aug. 31 by crab-walking up the prison’s wall onto its roof. The email was first reported by ABC News.
Cavalcante — who had been sentenced to life in prison for stabbing his ex-girlfriend to death in front of her children — was moved to a maximum security unit at the state correctional facility at Phoenix after evading police for two weeks. During the manhunt across Chester County, authorities say, he stole a van from a dairy; contacted former coworkers for help; broke into a house in West Chester and took peaches, apples and snap peas; and then stole a rifle from another home in South Coventry township.
He was captured behind a tractor dealership in Pottstown on Sept. 13. The prison guard on watch when Cavalcante escaped was fired.
That July warning from a corrections officer was not the first time Cavalcante was considered a flight risk.
A source at the Chester County prison, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the investigation, said Tuesday that Cavalcante was considered a risk of escape the entire time he was incarcerated at the facility.
During Cavalcante’s trial, he was transported to the county courthouse in West Chester in a “chase car,” a vehicle that sheriff deputies use in pursuits, rather than the standard vehicle used for transporting prisoners. It was done, the source said, as an extra layer of precaution, because Cavalcante had tried to flee to Mexico after killing his ex.
Chester County spokesperson Rebecca Brain said Tuesday that Cavalcante “was initially identified as an escape risk” when he was admitted to the prison in 2021. Additionally, county officials had received “unsubstantiated information from an unknown source” that Cavalcante planned to escape around the time of his trial, according to Brain.
Before Cavalcante escaped, Chester County Prison took security measures for inmates identified as an escape risk only when they were being transported off prison property, Brain said in a statement to The Inquirer. That policy, she said, was one reason the Prison Board put new leadership in place.
The prison has since made changes to the way it handles inmates at risk of escape under Acting Warden Howard Holland, whose first day on the job was the day Cavalcante ran away. The changes include assigning one or two corrections officers to monitor high-risk inmates when they are outside of their cells, Brain said.
The email from Beavers was forwarded to Holland after the escape so that the then-new warden “knew that information about an escape was previously noted,” according to Brain.
Cavalcante was not the first inmate to escape from Chester County Prison in 2023: Igor Bolte broke out of the facility in May by scaling the walls of the prison yard in the same manner.
After that incident, the prison began adding razor wire to gaps on the roof but hadn’t yet completed the job when Cavalcante escaped, Holland told residents at a town hall in September.
Holland promised additional security measures at the facility, including more razor wire, 50 to 75 new security cameras, and a dedicated officer to monitor those cameras around the clock, as well as potential GPS-monitoring for high-risk inmates.
“I want you to honestly know, from the bottom of my heart, that I am embarrassed and angry for what happened,” Holland said at the town hall. “But I’m here to tell you that I believe I can make things better.”
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