Union: Prison learned of escape plans day earlier
LIMA, Ohio (AP) — Prison officials were warned about an escape the day before three inmates, including a school shooter who killed three students, scrambled over a fence before being recaptured, the union representing Ohio guards said Friday.
One inmate was put in segregation when an escape plan was discovered on Wednesday, the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association said in a statement. That inmate was housed in the same unit as the three who escaped the following evening, and prison officials didn’t take additional steps to secure the unit, the union said.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction said in an email that the segregated inmate “has nothing to do with the escape.” She didn’t address other parts of the union’s allegations.
The three escaped prisoners, including convicted Chardon High School shooter T.J. Lane, were recaptured by early Friday morning.
Lane, 19, was caught only about 100 yards from the prison by two state troopers at 1:20 a.m. Friday. A second prisoner had been caught almost immediately, and troopers apprehended the third three hours after finding Lane.
Lane’s brief taste of freedom frightened residents in Chardon, the community nearly 200 miles to the east where Lane fatally shot three students and wounded two others and then further angered people with defiant behavior in court. At his sentencing hearing last year, Lane unbuttoned a dress shirt to reveal a T-shirt scrawled with the word “killer,” similar to a shirt he wore during the shootings on Feb. 27, 2012. He cursed and made an obscene gesture as the judge gave him three consecutive life sentences.
School officials canceled classes Friday.
“It’s a trigger,” district spokeswoman Ellen Ondrey said of the escape. “It takes everyone back to 2/27 and what was happening that day.”
The escape occurred at Allen Oakwood Correctional Institution, a minimum- and medium-security prison in Lima, about 80 miles south of Toledo.
Lane was housed on a “protective control” unit, a higher security setting than the main compound, according to a legislative prisons oversight committee statement Friday. The unit is designed to hold inmates with proven safety threats because of the notoriety of their crimes, testimony they have given or gang threats, the committee said.
An April inspection by the committee noted ongoing security concerns at the unit. Security management “remains a concern, both in terms of how the higher security inmates are handled, as well as discipline for misconduct,” according to a May report by the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee.
The state eliminated some security posts at the prison five years ago, according to the union, which also complained about low staffing.
“They just aren’t focused on security here like they need to be,” Shawn Gruber, a corrections officer there and a union board member, said in the statement.
Warden Kevin Jones said he saw Lane after he was captured and that the teen didn’t say anything. An investigation is underway to determine how the men, who were outside for recreation, managed to climb over the perimeter fence, the warden said.
Authorities wouldn’t say whether the three prisoners planned their escapes together.
Lane was captured somewhere near a small church and cemetery that are separated from the prison by an overgrown field and a two-lane road.
Russ Hill, who has lived next to the church for two decades, said he spent six hours sitting in his house in the dark with a gun at his side as dozens of officers searched the area with flashlights and spotlights.
“I’ve never felt safer any night I’ve been here because there were cops all over,” he said. “But I wasn’t about to go to sleep.”
Authorities didn’t release information about the prisoner who was caught almost immediately.
Authorities confirmed the third prisoner, Clifford Opperud, was taken into custody around 4:20 a.m. Friday, but they didn’t immediately release how or where. Opperud was serving time for robbery, burglary and kidnapping.
Lane pleaded guilty last year to aggravated murder charges in the shootings at Chardon High School.
Prosecutors say Lane killed Daniel Parmertor and Demetrius Hewlin, both 16, and Russell King Jr., 17, while wounding two others. One of the wounded students is paralyzed.
Lane, who was 17 at the time, was waiting in the cafeteria for a bus to take him to an alternative school for students who don’t fare well in traditional settings.
At his sentencing, Lane was defiant, smiling and smirking throughout.
Reached Thursday at her home in Chardon, Parmertor’s mother, Dina, said she was disgusted that Lane escaped.
“I’m extremely scared and panic stricken,” she said. “I can’t believe it.”
Other residents in Chardon said the escape opened old emotional wounds.
“The hardest thing last night was seeing all the images on TV,” said Morten Pederson, 42, who has two younger children in the school district. “You see the images and start to relive the whole thing.”
Police Chief Scott Niehus said the community is still healing.
“With all due respect, this is attention we really don’t want,” he said.
ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS, JOHN SEEWER
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