State Accuses Sheriff of "Gross Negligence and Incompetence"

September 27, 2013 Updated May 19, 2010 at 6:59 PM EDT

By WKBW Internet

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September 27, 2013 Updated May 19, 2010 at 6:59 PM EDT

ALBANY, NY (WKBW) -- The New York State Commission of Correction today accused Erie County Sheriff Timothy B. Howard and the management of the Erie County Holding Center of “gross negligence and incompetence” in connection with the October 2009 escape of a violent inmate who was a known security risk.

The Commission found that Collins' escape was a "direct consequence of the failure of the Erie County Sheriff and his senior managers to implement and follow fundamental correctional and custody practices...and by a failure by Sheriff's Office managers to require staff's compliance with vital security regulations and fundamental physical security and supervision practices."

Commission Chairman Thomas A. Beilein said: “The Commission’s investigation and report shows that the Sheriff and county, though an inability or unwillingness to abide by the most basic security precautions, provided a three-time convicted felon with the means and opportunity to escape, posing an obvious threat to the public safety.”

Chairman Beilein said the escape of inmate Collins, who was missing for several hours before he surrendered on the roof of the facility, was “entirely preventable,” noting that the report concludes the escape was the “culmination of chronic administrative, managerial and supervisory failures of the Erie County Sheriff’s Office that have been repeatedly brought to the attention of the Sheriff by the staff of the Commission during routine evaluations of the facility.”

The Commission's investigation outlines the escape as follows:

· Inmate Collins, who was supposed to be under especially stringent security precautions and constant supervision because of his prior disciplinary history and known security threat (one of the charges for which he was incarcerated was second-degree escape), obtained a piece of metal with which he was able to prevent his cell door from locking.

· Since Collins’ cell did not lock – and since officers who were supposed to supervise him were not supervising him – the inmate was able to leave his cell. He then stole a facility-issued two-way radio that a deputy had unattended and unsecured in a desk in the housing unit

· Collins used a desk telephone at an unstaffed post to call the Central Control Room and request that personnel there unlock the door to the outside recreation area, which they did without verifying the identity of the requester.

· Since the door to the housing unit was propped open, in violation of state regulations, Collins was able to leave the area in which his cell was located and get to the outside recreation area where he had persuaded an employee to unlock the door.

· Collins used a chair that was left in a recreation area to hoist himself atop a basketball backboard and, from there, climbed through a gap in the roof beams to gain access to the roof. However, Collins could go no further – fortunately, there were no nearby roofs to which he could jump or gutters or fire escapes which he could climb down -- and eventually negotiated his surrender.

In an interview with reporters Wednesday, Chairman Beilein called the Erie County Holding Center the most poorly run in the state, giving a grade of 'F'.

He went on to say that the Sheriff's office should have learned lessons from the Bucky Phillips incident, and cited the holding center as having the most violations in the state. Beilein did say that he does not want Sheriff Howard to resign, but rather wants him to succeed.

You can read the full report on the Commission's website here.