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Hamilton, AL 35570

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08/01/2018

Third escape in year and a half
Third escape in year and a half
 
• Sheriff sees desperate need for more staff, additional fence, new jail
 
Article contributed by The Journal Record
 
By SCOTT JOHNSON
Staff Writer
 
HAMILTON - Marion County Sheriff Kevin Williams says that he has had five breakouts during his 16-year tenure. Three of those escapes, however, have occurred over the last year and a half.
 
Williams, who is Marion County’s longest-serving sheriff, now entering his fifth term, faced his most recent escape on Thursday, July 26, where three inmates escaped overnight from the Marion County Jail in Hamilton aftering assaulting, kidnapping and robbing a lone jailor on duty.
 
The jailor only sustained minor injuries after he was assaulted by two inmated while he was returning them to their isolation cell after letting them out for showers.
 
Williams said that he has had to run occasional one-man shifts as he is burdened with not enough staff.
 
The sheriff told the Journal Record that in the wake of this third escape, he plans to approach the Marion County Commission and request additionally funding. Through these additional monies, Williams wants  to add three more positions to his jail roster, a new fence around the perimeter of the jail and to reiterate the county’s need for a new jail facility.
 
July 2018 escape
Among the three who escaped on July 26, two of them, Thomas Joe Green, 31, Joiner, Ark., and Christopher Cole Spain, 19, Jasper, were involved in previous escapes over the last year.
 
Spain escaped from the Walker County Jail in Jasper in July 2017 in the infamous “peanut butter” breakout, where 12 inmates tricked a recently-hired correctional officer to open an exit door by hiding cell numbers with peanut butter. All were recaptured.
 
Spain has been in custody at the county jail since September 2017. 
 
He is facing local charges of first- and second-degree theft of property, first-degree criminal mischief and breaking and entering a vehicle.
 
May 2018 escape
Green was arrested in April for first-degree rape of a minor. He is also facing second-degree escape charges for an escape attempt only two months ago on May 21.
 
Green escaped custody after claiming to feel sick and requesting for the shift officer to check his blood sugar. 
 
After the officer checked Green’s blood sugar, Green allegedly ran out of his cell and out the back door and over the fence. 
 
The backdoor was reportedly left open to allow more air circulation in the building.
 
He was captured about 10 hours later behind the Bedford Industrial Park in Hamilton.
 
March 2017 escape
In March 2017, Cory Dean, 23, Brilliant, and Zepplin Kennedy, 21, Hamilton, escaped from the county jail in similar circumstances to the recent July 26 escape.
 
A jailor on duty reportedly awoke both suspects in their isolation cell to allow them to shower. On the way, both suspects ran to the main lobby and out the front door.
 
Dean was being held in connection with a string of church burglaries and burnings.
 
Kennedy was being held on 31 counts of possession of child pornography and production of pornography with a minor.
 
Kennedy was found several days later at his grandmother’s house in Hamilton.
 
Dean was arrested in Carbon Hill a week later at a friend’s residence.
A total of nine residents were arrested for aiding and abetting in connection with the escape, including Kennedy’s mother and grandmother.
 
Williams told a reporter from the Journal Record that the previous two escapes happened more than 13 years before.
 
Though he wasn’t sure of precise dates, Williams said that the first two escapes happened between 2003, when he first took office, and 2005.
 
The first involved a man who was quickly found in a wooded area behind the jail. The second involved two female inmates who snuck out the front door while a third distracted a dispatcher.
 
Need for officers, fence, new jail
The sheriff said that there are some measures which can be implemented to prevent these sort of escapes from happening in the future.
 
With budget season approaching, Williams says that he plans to approach the Marion County Commission and request increased funding.
 
He plans on proposing additional staff, a secondary fence around the jail and a new facility.
 
Williams says that he is currently one officer short in his department, which he has been trying to fill. When he has an entire roster, he is able to run two men on each shift.
 
He said that, combined with providing his officers with holidays over the previous week, left him short-handed.
 
“We have three shifts and when I don’t have enough jailors, there are some shifts where there is only one man on duty during the overnight shift,” Williams said.
 
Overnight, the sheriff noted that main population inmates are on lockdown. However, it is in this window that those held in isolation are given the opportunity to get out of their cells to shower.
 
Refering to the July 26 escape of two isolation inmates, Williams said, “They realized that there was one man and they took advantage of it.”
 
Williams says that he estimates the cost of three additional employees will be about $120,000 annually.
 
Williams also believes that if the jail had a perimeter fence encompassing the facility with a gate, any escape attempt would ultimately fail.
 
The sheriff noted that the last two escapes have been over the jail’s yard fence and both times the razor concertina wire lining the top of the fence left the inmates with injuries. 
 
Had the escapees had to climb over a second fence fitted with razor wire on top and bottom, he doesn’t believe they would have been successful.
 
Williams said that this second layer of security would also secure the facility as a whole and shut off access to the surrounding road. He said he would want a gate which could be controlled by a dispatcher within the jail.
 
The sheriff said this would also discourage paraphernalia from being smuggled into the facility.
 
He knows of cases where cars will drive onto the jail property, stash drugs and drive off; jail trustees collect them afterwards and smuggle them inside.
 
The two former suggestions, Williams said, are short-term, practical solutions which will stem escapes. However, ultimately, he says the county is in need of a new facility altogether--a request which he has been vocal about over the last decade.
 
Everything taken into account, Williams said that he could see a new jail costing as much as $10-$15 million to construct.
 
While he doesn’t know of any grant funds available to build a jail, Williams said there are infrastructure grants available which could be used to run utilities and install a sewer system.
 
Jail overcrowding has also been an issue over the last several years.
The 1979 jail facility was built to hold 86 inmates, but it normally runs well over 100 men and women regularly.
 
(When a defendant is charged with a crime, the charge is merely an accusation and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.)
 
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