CENTRAL FALLS, R.I. (WPRI) — The warden of the detention center where an inmate escaped on Saturday says he did so by climbing a basketball hoop during recreation time, cutting his way through a fence covering the recreation area, climbing onto the facility’s roof and then shimmying down the building.
Warden Daniel Martin said it took three and a half hours for correctional officers at the Wyatt Detention Center to discover James W. Morales was missing, during a 10:30 pm inmate count at the facility. Video evidence shows Morales escaped at 7 p.m., according to Martin.
“He should’ve been detected missing before he was,” he said.
The prison is now on lockdown, and Martin said the staff would be evaluating security procedures including detection systems and staffing. He said Morales apparently walked through several rows of “extremely sharp” razor ribbons on the roof before descending to the ground, and had some sort of tool that he used to cut the fencing once he climbed on top of the basketball hoop.
Two correctional officers have since been placed on administrative leave, according to the warden’s assistant.
Local, state, and federal authorities continued their search Monday for Morales, 35, a former Army reservist who was being held on the alleged theft of 16 rifles and pistols for an Army Reserve armory in Worcester in 2015.
Massachusetts State Police believe that after escaping, Morales fled north into Attleboro, where a K-9 unit was able to follow a partial trail to an I-95 overpass near the state line. At the end of the trail, troopers found bloody prison clothing. The track ended abruptly and police think Morales might have gotten into a car there.
Police believe Morales stole a green Chevrolet Lumina from the parking lot of BK Mart on Washington Street in Attleboro on Saturday night. Troopers recovered the car in an undisclosed location the following night.
Officials say Morales stands 6 feet tall, weighs about 175 pounds, and has brown skin, black hair, and an eagle tattoo on the left side of his neck. It’s believed he was hurt by razor wire while climbing a fence during his escape.
Anyone with knowledge of Morales’ whereabouts is urged to immediately call 911.
In a statement Monday, Central Falls Mayor James Diossa called the situation “unacceptable.”
“It is extremely concerning that the safety and welfare of our city residents were placed in jeopardy due to this incident. As the host community for a detention center holding federal detainees, we expect a high level of safety and security for our residents. The Police Chief, Colonel James Mendonca, and I have been in constant contact with the Detention Center Administration and the U.S Marshals Service and we collectively communicated that this threat to the public safety is unacceptable. We are currently awaiting a full briefing on what has occurred in order to address the current situation as well as to ensure that this never happens again.”
Martin said it’s been more than two decades since the last escape at Wyatt. According to an Associated Press report, four prisoners cut through a fence and climbed over razor wire to escape in February of 1996, about two years after the facility first opened.
Two of the fugitives were captured in the Attleboro area about two and a half hours after the escape.