The Modesto Bee
Jan. 10—Authorities are hunting for six inmates discovered missing from their Merced County Jail cell shortly before midnight Saturday.
The Merced County Sheriff’s Office reported Sunday that a preliminary investigation has determined the men gained access to the roof of the jail and used a handcrafted rope to scale down the side of the building.
The Sheriff’s Office has formed a task force to track down the fugitives. People are warned the men should be considered armed and dangerous.
Those sought are:
— Jorge Barron, 20, of Atwater. He is 5-foot-5, 140 pounds, with black hair and brown eyes. He was being held on violation of probation.
— Gabriel Francis Coronado, 19, of Atwater. He is 5-10, 225, with black hair and brown eyes. The charges against him are attempted murder, shooting at an inhabited dwelling, participation in a criminal street gang, being a felon in possession of a firearm, and violation of probation.
— Manuel Allen Leon, 21, of Vallejo. He is 5-10, 165, with black hair and brown eyes. He faces charges of assault with a firearm, shooting at an inhabited dwelling, evading a peace officer/reckless driving, participation in a criminal street gang and carrying a loaded firearm.
— Andres Nunez Rodriguez Jr., 21, of Planada. He is 5-7, 145, with black hair and brown eyes. He is charged with attempted murder, shooting at an inhabited dwelling, participation in a criminal street gang and being a, felon in possession of a firearm.
— Fabian Cruz Roman, 22, of Los Banos. He is 5-6, 145, with black hair and brown eyes. He faces murder charges.
— Edgar Eduardo Ventura, 22, of Portland, Oregon. He is 5-11, 129, with with black hair and brown eyes. The charges against him are being a felon in possession of a firearm, participation in a criminal street gang and violation of probation.
Anyone who sees these individuals is asked not to approach them and to immediately call 911.
An 8-hour head start
During an online news conference Sunday, Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke said the six inmates housed in a nine-inmate cell were able to escape from the downtown jail sometime after 11:30 p.m. Saturday.
According to Warnke, the inmates were last seen on video around 11:30 p.m., saying that unless specifically watching that frame or screen on that cell, nothing was out of the ordinary.
“Right now I’ve got about 30-plus investigators scouring this county and other counties right now conducting an investigation,” Warnke said.
The Sheriff’s Office is in the middle of an internal investigation to determine how the inmates escaped and if any protocols were violated.
According to Warnke, about eight hours passed from the time the inmates escaped to the time staff discovered them missing from the facility sometime between 8 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. during a head check inside the jail.
“That’s not acceptable on anybody’s watch,” Warnke, said.
“If we’ve got folks that need to be held accountable we will be holding them accountable; I will not let this ride.”
Sheets fashioned into rope
Warnke said the inmates escaped from a gang housing unit inside the jail. Once on the the roof, they used a rope made out of braided sheets to lower themselves about 20 feet down the side of the building and into an alleyway between the Sheriff’s Office facility and an adjacent building.
Due to court rulings, Warnke said, law-enforcement personnel are not allowed to interrupt an inmate’s sleep at the facility.
“We do have officers walking up and down the cell blocks but we are no longer allowed to wake them up because they deemed it necessary for them to have a full night’s sleep,” he said.
Warnke said a be-on-the-lookout bulletin has been issued to law-enforcement agencies and he believes the men are trying to get out of the area as fast as they can. Warnke reiterated that people should not approach any of the men and instead are advised to call law enforcement.
“If you’re not trained law enforcement do not approach them. Do not take this into your own hands, just give us a call and we will take it on at that point. No sense anybody getting hurt, ” he said.
‘Antiquated’ jail a concern
There have been incidents over the years of inmates escaping from the main jail, Warnke said, but he does not recall a time anyone getting away in this fashion.
The Sheriff’s Office is regularly dealing with challenges at the downtown facility, according to Warnke.
“There’s protocols in place for a lot of things but you also have to remember that this jail is very antiquated and we’re continually fixing and repairing different things,” Warnke said. “This jail was not meant to house the type of inmate that we have now.”
An administrative review will help make sure protocols were met.
“We have got a lot of things in place to try and prevent things like this and that’s what we want to find out, if we dropped the ball or if it’s a building flaw or what,” he said. According to Warnke, county correctional facilities experienced staffing issues long before Saturday’s escapes.
“Our staffing levels have never been up to par since 2009 in our correctional facilities when the state cut money and the county also had to cut money. So we’ve been having staffing issues for a very long time and this is no different than anything else,” Warnke said.
The jail uses the staffing that is allowed, Warnke said, and he has been in contact with other county officials to see what can and cannot be done to address the staffing issues.
“We’re running with the same amount of individuals we’ve been running since I’ve been sheriff and to me it’s been unacceptable but again with budgets, that’s where we’re at.”
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