Inmates found wandering jail surrendered without incident

File photo Four inmates who attempted to escape from the jail early Sunday morning were found inside two observation rooms used by detention officers to monitor activity in inmate Pods, according to a police report.

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

Four inmates attempting to escape from the Curry County Detention Center were found wandering freely through the jail by police responding to a call for help.

And new details of the thwarted escape and subsequent resignation of jail command staff show the former jail administrator blaming problems on county officials.

The information is disclosed in documents obtained Wednesday by the CNJ from Curry County Manger Lance Pyle’s office and Clovis police.

Police entering the jail just before 1 a.m. found four men inside two observation booths used by detention officers to monitor inmate pods, according to a report from the Clovis Police Department.

The four surrendered without incident, the report said.

Shortly after the escape was stopped, Interim Administrator Carlos Ortiz and several members of his command staff resigned and the Curry County Sheriff’s Office took temporary command of the facility.

In a resignation letter obtained thorough a Freedom of Information Act request, Ortiz cites “lack of physical infrastructure and county operations of the facility,” “meddling by county officials,” and “serious gang issues that will not be addressed by county officials,” as reasons for his resignation.

“In reviewing all my security changes for the past couple of months, the meddling by county officials is making operating the facility impossible,” Ortiz said in his letter.

“Having staff interviewed by county officials to find wrong doings in operation creates hostility and insubordination in managing the facility.”

Ortiz goes on to say the inmates involved in the attempt were associated with a gang, an issue he says he previously brought to the county’s attention.

Ortiz predicted the jail will continue to have gang-related problems until the issues are addressed by corrections professionals.

“As a career professional in corrections, I will not have my professional career and corrections consulting firm impugned by incidents I cannot control,” he said in closing.

Efforts to reach Ortiz Wednesday were unsuccessful.

Letters submitted by four members of the command staff — James Hood, Jim Klein, Brenda Hawthorne, and Daryl Holly — make similar allegations against the county.

“All incidents occurring on February 20 and 21 were created by untrained personnel attempting to operate the facility from the sidelines,” each said in the closing of their respective resignation letters.

“Having in excess of 15 years in corrections management, the facility cannot be operated by lay person [sic]. This creates insubordinate staff and a non-manageable facility,” James Hood said. “I feel it in my best interest to resign my position until lay person [sic] remove themselves from detention personnel.”

The allegations made in the letters do not identify the specific county personnel or officials to whom they refer.

County Manager Lance Pyle said he is limited on what he can say regarding the resignations of Ortiz and his command staff because of personnel issues.

He said he was out of town Saturday and Sunday and doesn’t know what Ortiz and his staff are referencing in their letters.

He said while Ortiz had mentioned gang issues in the jail, he never asked for help.

“All detention centers have gang problems,” Pyle said. “With his training and experience he should have the resources to manage it. He never requested the jail committee, the county commission or myself for assistance with a gang problem. He has mentioned that there are gang problems but all jails have gang problems.”

Sheriff’s deputies and Clovis police were called to the jail after detention officers reported an escape attempt and said they needed assistance with a disturbance the inmates were causing.

Undersheriff Wesley Waller said Wednesday his office has an active, open investigation into the escape attempt and declined to discuss details of the incident or information contained in a report released by the Clovis Police Department.

Police said they found two handmade shanks — one on the visitation room floor and another inside a space between the ceiling and roof inmates had attempted to break through.

They also discovered a reinforced glass window in the visitation room was “webbed” or struck by a hard object and cracked, but not penetrated.

According to the report, a surveillance video viewed by officers also showed the four inmates damaging the visitation area.

The report does not detail how inmates got free inside the facility.

Requests for surveillance footage have been submitted to the sheriff’s office.

The four men involved in the attempted escape — Guadalupe Urquizo, 29, Brandon Wagner, 24, Rico Sena, 22, and Michael Padilla, 26 — were transferred to other facilities.

It is not the first time Urquizo has caused problems inside the jail.

Oct. 24, 2008, Urquizo, attacked two officers with a 7-inch metal shank.

In January, he was sentenced to 24 years in prison for the attack.

He was being held at the jail pending trial on charges of bribery of or retaliation against a witness with bodily injury.

Ortiz was hired to serve as chief of security operations under former administrator Lois Bean. He became interim administrator when she was terminated in September.