CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The internal investigation into how an inmate escaped from the South Central Regional Jail last week continued Monday as state officials said the jail’s staffing problems cannot be ignored as possibly contributing to what happened.
“We began this month with 1 in 3 correctional officer positions at that jail vacant,” state Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety Assistant Secretary Larry Messina said Monday on MetroNews “Talkline.” “We have a terrible problem with turnover and retaining experienced, quality officers.”
Todd Boyes, 43, of Caldwell, Ohio, walked out of the Charleston-based jail last Wednesday morning. He wasn’t reported missing until an end-of-shift head count Thursday at 7 p.m., the sixth head count since the escape occurred. Boyes was captured Sunday morning in the Rio Grande River near Laredo, Texas. He was grabbed in the water by Mexican authorities foiling his attempt to cross the border.
Messina called what happened last at South Central “extremely rare.”
“We want to keep it that way,” he said. “Now, more than ever, we have to make sure that our lawmakers and our policymakers provide sufficient attention and do more than just talk about the importance of public safety and actually do something about it.”
Del. Rodney Miller (D-Boone) is among a group of freshmen lawmakers that has taken an interest in recent months in the regional jail problems both with staffing and overcrowding. Miller, a former sheriff who ran a county jail, said even with the best efforts mistakes happen.
“Especially when you are looking at fatigue,” Miller said. “I think this is a wake up call.”
DMAPS has suspended four officers at the jail without pay as part of the Boyes escape investigation. Messina wouldn’t elaborate Monday on what the officers may have failed to do or how much training they’ve had. He did confirm Boyes was buzzed through three locked doors on his way out the front door.
He was missing for some 43 hours before a public alert was issued. Messina said the lag time from 7 p.m. Thursday head count to the public notice about five hours later was “regrettable.”
Investigators do believe the khaki pants Boyes was wearing were those that are issued to jail trusties who work in the kitchen. They are not sure where the dark-colored pullover came from, Messina said.
Messina said the escape, which was a terrible breach, points toward the larger problem.
“We can’t ignore the context in which this incident occurred,” he said. “We have folks working mandatory overtime, we have unstaffed positions, we have turnover. We can’t discount the possibility that these things did play a role.”
Miller said lawmakers must come up with a “practical, reasonable” answer on how to address the jail staffing issues.
An extradition hearing for Boyes is scheduled for Thursday morning in Webb County, Texas.