Three Reasons Why A Guard Might Help a Prisoner Escape from Jail

Crime
A blog about murder, theft, and other wickedness.
April 11 2013 10:53 AM

Three Reasons Why A Guard Might Help a Prisoner Escape from Jail

Felix Trujillo
Felix Trujillo

Photo Courtesy of Denver Police Department

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On Sunday, an inmate named Felix Trujillo escaped from the Downtown Denver Detention Center, allegedly by using one of the oldest tricks in the escapee’s book: disguising himself as a sheriff’s deputy and walking right out the front door. The escape raised many embarrassing questions, like “How did this guy get a sheriff’s jacket?” and “No, seriously, how did that happen?” On Monday, that question was answered when the police arrested Matthew Andrews, a sheriff’s deputy, and charged him with helping Trujillo escape. (Trujillo surrendered to police on Wednesday.)

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Prison guards help inmates escape more often than you’d think. Sometimes they have been bribed to do so. This happens quite a bit in Mexico, and other countries where guards aren’t very well-paid, but it’s been known to happen in the United States as well. In 2011, a guard at the Bexar County Jail was convicted of hiding a hacksaw blade in a taco and passing it along to an inmate in exchange for two bottles of Xanax.

Other times, guards help prisoners escape for romantic reasons. In 2007, a Kansas prison guard named Amber Lynn Goff helped facilitate the escape of two prisoners, one of whom she had a crush on. As soon as they escaped, the fictive relationship fell apart. “She realizes now there wasn't anything real in the relationship,” Goff’s mother told the Associated Press in 2008, right before Goff was sentenced to five years in prison. “She feels so extremely foolish, she is angry about it.”

But Andrews’ case is different, or so he claims. His attorney, Donald Sisson, told the Denver Post that the day before Trujillo escaped “a driver pulled up alongside Andrews and aimed a gun at him, telling him that his family and his life would be in jeopardy unless he helped get Trujillo out of jail.” While this would be harrowing if true, I will reserve judgment. Trujillo seems like a dangerous guy—he was in jail awaiting sentence for home invasion, and had escaped from custody before—but nothing in his record indicates he was some master criminal with a vast reserve of henchmen willing to do anything to secure his release. Even if Andrews is telling the truth, the response to a threat like this isn’t “Whatever you say, random stranger!” You remember the car’s license number, identify Trujillo’s known associates, and send your family to a hotel or something while you deal with the threat in a manner befitting an officer of the law.

What is apparent at this stage is that Andrews isn’t the only person to blame. This escape reflects badly on the entire jail, and indicates some broader management problems beyond just one jumpy guard. You don’t just walk out the door at a jail, whether you’re a prisoner or the warden. There are checkpoints, and barriers, and people whose job it is to buzz you through locked doors. Unless the Downtown Denver Detention Center is literally one of those “revolving door prisons” that Lee Atwater is always going on about, there was ample opportunity for officials to notice that something was amiss with the unfamiliar, neck-tattooed dude in the ill-fitting deputy’s uniform. Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes an entire prison to empower an escapee. Multiple layers of security failed here.

Justin Peters is a writer for Slate. He is working on a book about Aaron Swartz, copyright, and the rise of “free culture.” Email him at justintrevett@fastmail.fm.

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