DA: Escape investigation ‘progressing’

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

District Attorney Matt Chandler said there are still some unanswered questions about last month’s escape at the Curry County jail after reviewing a state police investigative report.

Members of the region’s Major Crimes Unit are reinterviewing inmates and detention officers, he said.

Chandler said approximately 10 interviews were conducted at the jail by state police immediately following the escape and, “(we) had several unanswered questions that we felt were necessary to assist us in the criminal investigation. We’re also attempting to corroborate several of the statements that can assist in the building of the case.”

Chandler would not elaborate on the nature of statements gathered, citing a desire to protect the integrity of the investigation.

“The investigation is still ongoing. I’ve had a chance to fully review all of the New Mexico State police reports… the investigation is certainly progressing and I believe that finality is in sight,” he said.

“But we are attempting to follow up on some of the information that has been received.”

Chandler received the report Sept. 11.

Eight male inmates escaped from the Curry County Adult Detention Center on Aug. 24 by shimmying up plumbing pipes and cutting a hole in the roof. Four, including a convicted killer and a suspected killer, remain at large.

Chandler said law enforcement has learned some things from the investigation — like how inmates were able to move freely between two externally secured pods for up to 48 hours before the escape — but they still want to know how inmates obtained the instruments they were able to use to cut through the roof of the jail.

Chandler declined to provide details on what was learned.

The driving factor in the investigation is to determine if there is criminal liability.

Chandler assured that any criminal activity uncovered will result in charges and any findings of negligence on the part of detention center staff will be shared with county administrators.

“I am pretty bothered by the fact that these guys we caught the first time are out, that our victims can’t sleep comfortably and that the community (has had to be on alert),” he said.

Curry County Undersheriff Wesley Waller said a command center set up at the sheriff’s department is actively buzzing as investigators work on leads.

“It’s a priority case. We are still actively working this case daily and still receiving tips and following up on the info received from those,” he said.

On TV:

The Fox television show America’s Most Wanted is planning to air a second segment Saturday featuring the escapees — Edward Salas, 19, Larry McClendon Jr., 19, Michael England, 29, and Louis Chavez, 18, with an emphasis on suspected murderer McClendon, and England who is charged as an accessory after the fact in the same homicide.

Sept. 6, AMW featured the escape, focusing on Edward Salas and the 2005 murder of 10-year-old Carlos Perez in which he was convicted.

The coverage from AMW has been valuable towards bringing national attention to the investigation and generating tips, Waller said.

AMW airs at 7 p.m. (MST) on the FOX network.

Fox airs on KASA channel 2 in New Mexico, KCIT channel 14 in Amarillo or KJTV channel 34 in Lubbock.

To read an AMW Internet story on the escape, visit: www.amw.com