New York State
Department of Correctional Services
Glenn S. Goord, Commissioner
Office of Public Information
For immediate release:
Friday, March 19, 2004
Commissioner: Staff complacency contributed to escape from Elmira prison
Commissioner Glenn S. Goord today released his report into the July 7, 2003, escape by two inmates from the maximum-security Elmira Correctional Facility in Chemung County.
The report concludes that complacency on the part of employees -- from administrators to line staff, combined with the egregious behavior of three workers -- contributed to the first escape in 19 years from the prison that today houses 1,840 inmates.
The report is available as an Adobe PDF under the Press Release section on the Department’s website: www.doccs.ny.gov
In the report, Commissioner Goord said, “The escape of inmates Timothy Vail and Timothy Morgan was avoidable. It resulted from complacency manifested in a widespread breakdown in Departmental practices, long-time policies and security procedures. The inmates recognized and took advantage of these lapses. Staff complacency allowed the inmates to identify, smuggle and utilize contraband and other material to enable their escape.”
While most of the necessary corrective actions cited in the report were completed within the first few months following the escape, the report was withheld until Vail’s sentencing this afternoon in Chemung County Court on the escape incident. Morgan had been sentenced last Oct. 31.
Commissioner Goord said, “There is little doubt that had there been strict adherence to established policy, procedure and practices, the escape would have been thwarted. The dedicated staff at Elmira last saw an escape in 1984. Its excellent record led to a mood of complacency, exhibited by staff over-familiarity with Vail, lax tool control, spotty inmate frisks and incomplete cell searches. Count procedures and perimeter security requirements were not followed. Failures in basic correctional practices, regarding supervision of inmates, alertness and observation, contributed to the inmates’ success in escaping the proverbial ‘security envelope’ – the cell.”
Three employees are being served with notices of discipline seeking their dismissal from state service. Served this morning at the prison were civilian instructor Gary Silvers and Correction Officer James Davenport. Correction Officer Richard Mustico will be served when he reports for his next duty assignment. They will continue to work as they undergo the disciplinary process.
In a letter to the public included in the report, Commissioner Goord said, “I want to assure the public and our employees that the Elmira Correctional Facility remains a secure work site, safe for the Chemung County community that surrounds it.”
Investigators found that virtually all materials used in the escape were obtained from Carpentry Shop #4, including a sledgehammer head clearly stamped “Shop 6.” The shop closed in the 1980s. It was later relocated and reopened as the current Shop #4. The sledgehammer head had since been used in Shop #4 as a door stop, until Vail smuggled it out to the double cell he and Morgan shared. The sledgehammer was not, as was alleged at the time of the escape, "stolen from a prison construction site" with "insufficient security staff coverage."
Vail had also been given a chair from the carpentry shop to take back to his cell. But, before doing so, he filled its hollow metal legs with approximately 100 screws that would be used to chip away at the concrete ceiling in the cell.
Vail also took a guide from a jointer planer in the carpentry shop and smuggled it to their double-cell, as well as a stabilizer bar from a table saw. Both were used to hammer screws into the concrete. Neither of these items, the sledgehammer head or the screws hidden within the chair legs were detected as the inmates smuggled them through prison security checkpoints back to their cell.
No contraband was discovered during three searches of their cell during the period the investigation found the inmates were implementing their escape plan.
The investigation also debunked allegations that noise from "blaring televisions" prevented officers from hearing the inmates hammering into the concrete ceiling of their cell. The cell from which the inmates escaped is 120 feet down the cell block, and three stories above, the single communal TV on the ground floor of the cell block. The officers' station is also on the first floor: 10 feet beyond the inmates' cell and then more than 20 feet down a side corridor. Those distances preclude noise from that TV from being a factor. There were only a handful of incidents in which staff issued inmates disciplinary tickets in recent months for refusing orders to follow regulations and use personal headphones to listen to their 12-inch, black-and-white in-cell televisions. Thus, sound from in-cell televisions did not present a diversion.
“Policies and procedures exist for a reason,” Commissioner Goord said. “In any job site, work standards and expectations fall when complacency sets in. The staff at Elmira has recommitted itself since last summer to ensuring that all security procedures are now followed, and that accountability is being maintained in shops throughout the prison.
“I intend that this report will now become a self-auditing tool for every prison in the state,” Commissioner Goord said. The state’s 70 prisons today house 64,928 inmates.