By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer
Inmates made calls on a cell phone stolen from a nurse about a week before the August escape of eight inmates from the Curry County Adult Detention Center, according to a report by state police.
A nurse told state police investigators she set her phone on a computer table in the infirmary and it was taken. As soon as she noticed it missing, she reported it and called her phone company to cancel the service, the report stated.
Phone records revealed the stolen phone was “used with high frequency” between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. Aug. 18, the investigator noted.
Numbers of interest that were called with the phone included that of Lolo Salas, the father of escapee Edward Salas, the report said.
Six days later, eight inmates, including 21-year-old Salas, escaped by getting into a plumbing chase, climbing water pipes and using makeshift tools to cut a hole through the roof of the jail.
Salas, Michael England, 29, and Louis Chavez, 18, remain at large.
The interviews of about a dozen inmates and detention staff were included in the report.
District Attorney Matt Chandler said investigators believe the phone may have been used in planning the escape.
“We do have a strong speculation that that phone was used to coordinate parts of the escape,” he said.
“That phone was used by multiple inmates, including but not limited to those that escaped, but without the actual phone calls being recorded, we can only speculate there could have been discussion about the escape.”
Chandler said all inmate phone calls at the jail are recorded but the lost cell phone gave inmates a unique opportunity to hold undocumented conversations.
The phone was later found in the possession of an inmate who did not escape, the report said.
A guard said the nurse was warned about leaving it lying around before, according to the report.
In the report, at least one inmate alleged a guard had assisted in the escape.
But Chandler said through more interviews, his investigators, “could not corroborate that information from other inmates and specifically, other inmates informed us that the detention officer and (the inmate who accused him) had a history of conflict,” he said.
“In addition to that, we found corroborating evidence to the contrary. We found that the materials used for the breakout were actually left in the water chase by a prior maintenance contractor.”
Chandler’s office reviewed the state police report and conducted further investigations based on the interviews conducted by state police investigators.
Chandler’s investigators determined the inmates were able to sneak a key away from detention officers who were busy working on a plumbing issue and unlock doors that gave them access to a small space between two walls that housed water pipes and a neighboring pod.