01/30/2006

Neb. officer placed on leave after inmate escape

Kristin Zagurski, WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER

Copyright 2006 The Omaha World-Herald Company 

A Douglas County correctional officer has been placed on administrative leave for not following procedures that could have prevented the Sunday night escape of an inmate, the county's corrections director said Friday.

Officials also have updated jail policy to require three strip searches for inmates being taken off site for medical treatment.

One search will be conducted before leaving the jail, the second before leaving the hospital and the third back at the jail, said Robert Patton, corrections director.

Patton said the policy on searches for such trips was ambiguous before.

"We have now made it very plain," he said.

Officials said inmate Raymond Thomas used a bar of soap fashioned to look like a handgun to escape from two correctional officers. The officers were taking him from the Nebraska Medical Center back to the Douglas County Correctional Center.

Thomas, 20, was being held on suspicion of attempted robbery when he complained that he had been throwing up blood. He was taken to the hospital and examined and was on his way back to the jail when officials say he escaped by using his soap gun to force the two officers out of the car about 7:15 p.m. Sunday.

Thomas was captured Monday night and now is back at the jail.

One of the officers used improper search and restraint techniques, which contributed to Thomas' escape, Patton said.

"If sound practice was followed that evening, I believe this escape could have been prevented," he said.

The officer, identified in court files as Joseph Jeanpierre, has been placed on paid administrative leave pending review of the case by an administrative panel and, ultimately, by Patton.

Patton said that process should be finished in the next three weeks.

Disciplinary action against Jeanpierre, who county payroll records show has worked at the jail since December 2000, could range from suspension to removal.

The name of the other officer involved in the escape is Darla May, according to court files. She has been with the county since March 2002, county payroll records show.

Sgt. Ross Stebbins, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge No. 8 -- the correctional officers' union -- said he thought that placing Jeanpierre on leave is "probably the most appropriate thing that Mr. Patton could do."

Stebbins said the officer "feels bad about what happened."

"He's under a lot of stress," Stebbins said.

Several procedures in addition to the search policy have been changed as a result of the investigation into the escape, Patton said.

Two officers now will be required for all transports. A sole officer was allowed under the past policy, Patton said, although two officers were present Sunday night.

In addition to the strip searches, the transport vehicle also will be searched before leaving the jail, before leaving the hospital and back at the jail, Patton said.

Finally, each jail staff member from Patton on down will receive refresher training in the use of restraints within the next two weeks.

The jail averages one transport per day and conducted 30 transports last month, Patton said.

There will be no change in the items inmates have access to, such as bars of soap, Patton said.

Patton said he has been reviewing all of the jail's policies since he took over as corrections director in September. That review is about 60 percent complete, he said.

Patton said he had not yet reviewed the transportation policy and does not know that a prior review would have had an effect on this case.

"There's nothing that's foolproof," he said. "What I've done is close all the loopholes that I can see right now."

The last inmate to escape from the jail before Thomas was Marshall Campbell, who walked out of the jail on May 2, 2005, with prisoners who were set to be released.

Campbell was arrested two days later in Council Bluffs. 
 
January 28, 2006

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