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Another security breach found at jail

STORY BY EILEEN KELLEY, (Week of August 8, 2013)

Last week brought discovery of yet another security breach at the Indian River County Jail, with a veteran Sheriff’s Office sergeant reporting that on a perimeter check, she found multiple doors left open, including one leading to areas where explosives and dangerous tools – including pickaxes, sledge hammers and pitchforks – were stored.

Another door was left open – perhaps for hours – to the area where the master controls for electricity to the main part of the jail are located, she said.

Leanette Tilles, a sergeant at the sheriff’s office for about 10 years, was so alarmed by her July 29 discovery of the security breaches that she filed a lengthy incident report with jail administrators that included photographs of all the problems.

Sheriff Deryl Loar, who found time last week to exchange banalities with hosts of two local radio shows, once again did not return a phone call inquiring about the on-going security issues (see our editorial on Page 34).

Tilles’ report marks at least the third time in two months that jail security has been compromised. In June, two inmates managed to get out of their cell and roam around portions of the jail unimpeded. In July, a maintenance worker was disciplined for leaving an exterior door to a utility room unlocked.

Two escapes in 2005 and 2011 involved five inmates who used the utility rooms to gain their freedom. The most recent escape was by two convicted killers, one of whom was finally apprehended 1,000 miles away in Cincinnati.

In that escape, the inmates cut bars in an air duct with a hacksaw to get into the utility room. They then popped the lock to the room’s exterior door, scaled one fence and dug under another fence. 

In her report last week, Tilles reported that a gate outside the jail compound was unsecured. In addition, she found all of the doors to a maintenance building – which houses the generator, fire sprinklers and electricity for the main part of the jail – propped open.

An unlocked storage shed door revealed explosives, sledge hammers, pitchforks and axes. That building sits just feet away from a picnic pavilion that inmates who are trustees use for lunch and breaks. 

Tilles said she asked a civilian maintenance worker as well as two other deputies if they left the door to the storage shed unsecured. Tilles’ report claims all the people she questioned told her the shed door was used by Deputy Brad Stevens, who oversees the trustee work crew. She noted Stevens already had left work for the day by the time she was doing her perimeter check of the jail.

It was unclear at press time if Tilles’ report will lead to an internal affairs investigation similar to an earlier investigation that determined civilian maintenance worker Dan Long was negligent when he likely left open an exterior utility room door. Long was suspended for five days without pay.

Leroy Smith, a lieutenant who oversees the internal affairs division, did not return a phone call seeking comment on whether Stevens was under investigation in connection with the latest security breach.

In early July, a day after Vero Beach 32963 began questioning the sheriff’s department about a case where two dangerous inmates manipulated the electronic lock in their cell and roamed the jail unnoticed and unobserved for roughly an hour, the sheriff’s office sent out a media statement quoting Loar as saying:

“Institutional security is of paramount importance within our jail. The safety of our residents of Indian River County as well as that of our visitors is our core mission.” 

That July 9 media release also stated that additional security measures had been implemented following the discovery that the inmates got out of their cell. The sheriff’s office did not want to discuss the matter in detail.

“In order to maintain the security of our correctional facility and provide the highest protection to the public, the details of the internal electronic cell lock being manipulated are not being released as doing so may endanger our jail staff,” according to the statement from the sheriff’s office.  “However, steps have already been taken to ensure that the 22-year-old locks in that section of our facility have been reinforced.”

The extent of those security steps is now under question after Vero Beach 32963 obtained an e-mail through a public records request suggesting that may not be the case after all.

On July 12, two weeks after Robert Smith, who is awaiting sentencing on attempted murder charges, and Norie Davis, who is awaiting trial on felony kidnapping and robbery charges, left their jail cell multiple times in one evening, the sergeant whose job it is to identify problem jail locks was told by Lt. Adam Bailey not to move prisoners from two cells where he had found problems.

Sgt. Justin Langford sent an e-mail to himself in an effort to record the conversation he had with Bailey as well as to keep tabs on which cells had bad locks, according to the e-mail.  The July 12 e-mail also states that the locks’ security issues were not all corrected as the sheriff’s office July 9 media statement implies.

“As of now, the doors will secure and lock.  However they will still need to be replaced in the future which he (Bailey) stated could be some time before they get to it,” Langford wrote.