The escape from the Wichita County Jail Annex captivated and stunned many in Texoma.
The jail break showed multiple cracks in our prison system, but not all of those flaws can be fixed.
In the early morning hours on August 19th, 4 inmates seemingly beat the system going from behind bars to being on the run.
"At this point, we are considering them dangerous," said Wichita County Sheriff David Duke during the hunt.
The self-professed mastermind of the escape, 22-year-old Jimmy Noel Hughes was in the Annex for 2 counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child. He along with 2 friends, 19-year-old James Thomas Mclendon, and 22-year-old Daniel Cecilio Ramos left the Annex together. Within 6 hours of breaking out, they were caught near one another in Clay County.
"Those guys, they all went out together, they're the ones involved with the whole planning of the jail escape," said Sheriff Duke, "So it was pretty easy to nail those guys."
Hughes is now serving 2 stacked life sentences. His first opportunity for parole is in 60 years. The 4th escapee, Devontae Combs was much harder to track down.
"The 4th guy, is the guy that went out just on his own, wasn't part of the plan. He went out after the little guys went out and it took 39 hours before we got him in custody," explained Sheriff Duke.
Once the man hunt was over, the Sheriff's office focused on mending the many cracks that allowed inmates to get out.
At the Annex, overtime and overcrowding is a problem. It's estimated that 10,000 people come through the doors of the Annex per year. Only one official is in charge of keeping an eye on 48 prisoners at a time.
"The officer watching his 48 inmates wasn't standing there, doing his job. He had walked down and was doing something else with some of the inmates in the next pod so that was the first break in our man power," says Sheriff Duke.
Not only were the inmates not always watched, on that day, some of the standard operating procedures weren't followed. Deputy Chief Meador oversees the jail operations and says that multiple times a day, inmates are counted and cross referenced with a computer system to make sure every person is where they should be.
"At some point in time, somebody working back there in that unit where they went missing, failed to make a proper count, and it's the same guy that wasn't at that desk when he was supposed to be," says Deputy Chief Derek Meador.
Even if there was a problem with the staffing, the structure of the Annex, such as the bars, should have been able to hold prisoners in.
"There were some construction flaws at the Annex that at least one of these guys had discovered," says Meador, "and was able to take advantage of that and compromise the security of their cell that they were in and use that to get out through the roof."
"We found where there were some places where those bars weren't welded at all," adds the Sheriff.
"You could actually stand on one of the pieces of furniture inside the cell and push the bar up," illustrates Meador, "And it hadn't been broken; somebody just didn't weld it together."
In fact, multiple bars were found to be tact welded, a temporary and unsecure hold meant to merely put the metal in place. Since the escape from Annex, those bars have now been properly welded and additional security measures costing the county over $49,500 were enacted.
Deputy Chief Meador thinks the price is worth it. "I think the Annex is much more secure than it was on August 19th."
Although many of the structural problems in the Annex were fixed after the escape, one of the inmates exposed a bigger problem with no solution in sight. It is has something to do with what's in a name.
Newschannel 6 exposed the multiple names of the 4th escapee, on affidavits, police reports, and other court documents. At one count, there were 8 different aliases and at least 2 different birth dates for the same man, now known as Devontae Combs.
"We have a lot of different individuals that come through our jail that use other names, different aliases," explains the Sheriff. "In sorting all those out sometimes the right information will be attached to one of them, but they'll also have alias names along with them."
According to both the Sheriff and the Deputy Chief, anyone in custody without an I. D. can give a name, any name, and there is no way to change that new identity.
"When they were arrested, they had no identifying information, and so they just put a name out there and say this is my name. Well, they bring them to jail, all the paperwork, the charge, the court paperwork, everything is going to have that name, date of birth, whatever it was that they happened to give as their I. D.," says Meador.
Which means that if a person were apprehended, they can give the name of their sister and her date of birth. The charged individual's fingerprints would be sent off to the state and attached to the sister's name. From that point forward, the sister's name will always be associated with the charged individual. Until law enforcement finds out otherwise, the sister's name would be the only one with a criminal record. Even if the true name of the charged person is revealed, there would be no way to remove the sister's name from the system.
"Well that person for all intents in the criminal justice system has two names now. Because once that other one's complete, you can't go back and change all that documentation in court and everything. And so you go to use the fingerprints at the state level and their reported with that other name so that their fingerprints actually tie those two names together, and quite honestly that person, from the criminal justice standpoint, has two names now," explains Meador.
Because of technology now, there is no way to secure this break in the system. Deputy Chief Meador says it all comes down to trusting the person in custody to do the right thing.
"The first time somebody's handled, and you don't have any paperwork, there's not, there's nothing you can do," says Meador. "I think most people in the interest of freedom would be against like taking fingerprints at birth, you know, so you just have to take them at their word for it sometimes."
Newschannel 6 has asked to go inside the Annex to see how inmates were processed first hand. Our requests have been turned down because there is no way to guarantee our safety.
3 of the 4 inmates are currently awaiting trial for their original charges, along with a felony escape charge tacked on. Not only were the 4 taken back into custody, they had some company from those that helped them the day they broke out.
"They were facilitating escape, they helped and aided these people who knew what they were doing and we arrested them, bottom line. They got caught helping out, they were involved with it, and they went to jail for it," says the Sheriff.
6 people in total are now charged with facilitating escape.