Report details mistakes leading to escape

Curry County Detention Officer Cody Longenecker operates cell doors and monitors cameras Tuesday from within the master control room of the Curry County Detention Center.

Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer

Inmate Narcizo Soto Jr. convinced a Curry County Adult Detention Center officer that a supervisor had OK’d his maintenance work outside of his cell, and other employees simply assumed it true.

Seven days later, on Nov. 13, Soto escaped from a short-staffed detention center, running out on floor duty while the employee watching over him was visiting with a coworker in another office.

Those are the findings of an investigation into Soto’s escape by CCADC Interim Administrator Tori Sandoval, released Tuesday afternoon via a Clovis News Journal Freedom of Information Act request.

Interim Sgt. Michael Leopard has been dismissed, and four other detention center employees face hearings with the possibility of being terminated, after the escape of Soto, the 14th inmate to escape the jail since 2002.

All the escapees but Edward Salas, convicted in the 2005 shooting of 10-year-old Carlos Perez, have been recaptured. Soto was found 18 hours later and recaptured without incident.

County Attorney Stephen Doerr informed the CNJ that he has not received any surveillance video from the still-to-be-completed investigation. If he receives any, he said, he will review it for possible release.

According to the report released Tuesday:

• Soto, accused of shooting at his girlfriend’s car while her child was in it on Feb. 26, told Detention Officer Michael Carson on the night of Nov. 7 that he was supposed to be working with the floor crew, and said Interim Capt. Nathan Wagner approved it.

The officer allowed Soto onto the floor crew after he could not contact the captain for verification. His supervisors that evening, Capt. Sheila Morrison and Sgt. Terri Rhue, said nothing about Soto working.

• On two other nights prior to the escape, Soto was allowed on floor duty again. Morrison said she thought nothing of the charges or a U.S. Marshall’s hold, since they had already seen him working on the floor crew.

• On the night of Soto’s escape, the detention center was running three officers short due to a pair of call-ins and a no-show from an officer who was scheduled for her last day. Leopard informed his supervisor, Lt. Lorenzo Barela, of the staffing issues. Barela contacted other officers to cover via text message and phone calls. None returned text messages. When phone calls were placed, three did not return phone calls, and two others had commitments with friends or family members. Barela and Morrison did not come in to cover, as both thought the shift was OK under Leopard.

• Soto was one of three inmates on floor detail Sunday morning. While one went to get more hot water for the job, Soto escaped at 1:23 a.m. by running out of the room and toward an exit commonly used by officers. Leopard, assigned to watch the crew, said he was briefly in the booking room giving keys to another employee. However, a video showed Leopard leaning against a counter visiting with an employee.

• An officer in the control room noticed what appeared to be an inmate leaving and alerted the sergeant. The Clovis Police Department was notified of the escape within five minutes, and the center was put on lockdown for 20 minutes.