Many security lapses led to Texas inmate’s escape


HOUSTON (AP) — A multitude of security failures, such as inadequate strip searches, poorly enforced restrictions, a staffing shortage and an environment in which correctional officers grew complacent created the circumstances that led to the May escape of a Texas inmate, resulting in the deaths of five people, according to two assessments of the incident released Thursday.

After Gonzalo Lopez, 46, fled a prison bus on May 12 during an escape where he was able to break free of his restraints and cut through a caged portion of the vehicle. He was released for three weeks. Authorities shot and killed Lopez on June 2, but not before killing 66-year-old Mark Collins and his four grandsons — Waylon Collins, 18; Carson Collins, 16; Hudson Collins, 11; and Bryson Collins, 11 — on the family’s farm near Centerville, located between Dallas and Houston.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice, or TDCJ, conducted an internal review of the escape and also hired an outside firm to conduct an independent review.

Both reports found that correctional officers who worked at the Hughes Unit, where Lopez was housed, and who were on the bus with him, broke procedures by failing to undress him properly and make sure his handcuffs were fastened and that it could not be tampered with.

If a proper search had been done, they probably would have found what appeared to be a handcuff key that Lopez hid in his mouth at one point, as well as two 8-to-10-inch metal weapons that he used to cut through the metal grille. of a security door, which allowed him to overtake the driver, the reports said.

“The fact is that if any of these actions had been followed in accordance with existing policies, the escape could probably have been prevented,” according to an independent study conducted by Miami-based CGL Companies.

TDCJ discovered several errors during its internal review. Correctional officers failed to use on Lopez a device known as the Body Orifice Security Scanner, or “BOSS chair,” which is designed to quickly detect metal contraband in inmates’ body cavities. The leg rests were not positioned properly on Lopez, leaving them loose. A device placed between handcuffs to prevent inmates like Lopez from accessing the keyhole was apparently placed incorrectly and did not cover the keyhole, potentially allowing him to escape.

In addition, two officers had falsified search logs that indicated that Lopez’s cell had been searched when it had not.

“Public safety is TDCJ’s core mission, and as an agency, we failed to meet that mission,” the agency’s executive director Bryan Collier said in a statement. “The agency has worked hard to hold ourselves accountable, identify the failures that led to the escape and take steps to ensure it never happens again.”

On the bus, Lopez, who had killed on behalf of Mexican drug cartels, tried to recruit some of the other 15 inmates on board to join him, asking them if they were “ready to rock and roll,” TDCJ reports. and CGL Companies, the external reviewer. One inmate initially said yes, but changed his mind after realizing that Lopez planned to kill the two officers on the bus, drive the bus onto Interstate 45, hijack a car, kill the occupant, and drive to San Antonio. drive until the search was scaled back, according to the reports.

Both assessments found that Hughes unit personnel had “become complacent and circumvented security procedures to hastily complete responsibilities in a cursory manner. These breakdowns appear to have become routine and a matter of regular practice rather than isolated incidents” said the CGL report.

CGL said the escape could also likely have been prevented if Hughes unit personnel had “scanned Lopez in the BOSS chair prior to transport, a task that would have added less than a minute to the process.”

The conclusions of the two reviews are similar to many of the findings found in a study published earlier this week by the Houston Chronicle and The Marshall Project. The joint investigation also found that the first police officer to arrive after the bus crash did not chase or attempt to shoot Lopez as he fled and despite finding signs that Lopez was hiding in the Centerville area, authorities did not warn residents that Lopez could still be around.

The TDCJ and CGL reports briefly mention the death of the Collins family, but gave no information on whether Centerville residents should have been warned when Lopez’s DNA was found in a broken-in cabin on May 31.

Collins and his four grandsons, who were killed on June 2, died of gunfire, gunshot wounds, and stab wounds. Authorities say that after killing the family, Lopez stole an AR-15-style rifle and handgun from their ranch, as well as a truck he drove about 220 miles into Atascosa County, south of San Antonio. There he was killed by the police.

Lawyers for the Collins family have informed the Texas bureau that they intend to file a lawsuit against the family over the death.

Following her investigation, TDCJ initiated disciplinary action against more than 20 staff members and supervisors. The agency has made several security changes since the breakout, including increasing the required number of agents to three on each transport bus and starting the installation of video surveillance equipment on buses.

CGL also made several recommendations, including suggesting that TDCJ reconfigure transport buses to improve safety and develop strategies to reduce staff vacancies. In the month before Lopez’s escape, 43% of correctional officer jobs at the Hughes unit were vacant.


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The Valley Voice
The Valley Voice
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.


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