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Jail guards fired, suspended, for jail escape.

Colonie -- Albany County sheriff says officers' "shortcuts'' led to Nov. 27 escape of jail inmate William Hodge

By BRENDAN LYONS, Times Union Staff writer
First published: Friday, December 14, 2001

Two correction officers were fired and three suspended Thursday for their roles in allowing an Albany County jail inmate to escape two weeks ago, Sheriff James L. Campbell said.

Last week, the sheriff said he wanted to fire five officers, including a sergeant. But on Thursday he said after reviewing the internal investigation report with a county attorney that it would have been difficult to have the job dismissals upheld in a labor dispute.

"The penalties are based on the levels of individual responsibility,'' Campbell said.

The escape of 33-year-old William Hodge stung a department that had not seen an inmate successfully break out of its jail since the early 1970s. Hodge, a bank robbery suspect, hid in a recreation yard until dark on Nov. 27 and then scaled two razor-topped fences. He ran to a nearby nursing home and took a taxi to Albany.

An intensive manhunt ensued that stretched from Albany to the Bronx before Hodge was arrested Dec. 5 within an hour of allegedly robbing a downtown bank near the Pepsi Arena. He told police his plan was to use the money to get he and his girlfriend, who also was arrested for helping him, as far as Florida or Arizona.

The first breakdown in security at the jail came when Correction Officer Michael Pierce escorted Hodge and a few dozen other inmates to a recreation yard but did not go outside with them, Campbell said.

Hodge told authorities he hid under a picnic table when the recreation hour was over and waited for nightfall. The officer was supposed to check the yard after the inmates returned inside, but did not, Campbell said.

"Hodge told us he knew this officer never goes out in the yard,'' the sheriff said. "Had he gone out in the yard, this escape never would have taken place. Plus, he never did his (inmate) count at the beginning or end of his shift.''

Pierce, 32, a correction officer for seven years, was fired along with Brent Kinney, 34, a correction officer for more than four years. Kinney also did not make proper rounds and account for inmates on Hodge's tier that night, Campbell said.

In addition, Hodge had been disciplined at the jail and was supposed to be locked in his cell after returning from the recreation yard, which meant the officers would have known he was gone had they performed that task, officials said.

Sgt. Peter J. Trodden, 30, a member of the department for more than three years, was demoted to the rank of correction officer for failing to check Hodge's tier that night. Trodden and Officer Donald Brady, 34, both were suspended for 30 days and placed on a one-year probation, officials said.

Correction Officer Joseph R. Lowry, 32, was suspended without pay for 15 days and placed on probation for a year. Lowry, a five-year veteran of the department, worked on Hodge's tier the morning after the escape and failed to notice he was gone when he made his rounds.

"It's tough terminating people, but the way I look at this is they were taking shortcuts,'' Campbell said. "Had the policies and procedures been followed the inmate never would've escaped.''

The disciplinary action comes a week after Campbell set changes in jail security, including more razor wire, installing electronic monitoring devices and increasing inmate counts.

Union officials representing the jail's 280 correction officers said the firings were too severe.


submitted  by: Werner Hetzner

source:  Albany Times Union



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