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Escape from Nevada jail, resignation raises political stakes

RENO, NEVADA (AP) – The head of Nevada’s Department of Corrections resigned on Friday at the request of Governor Steve Sisolak in the wake of a prison escape by a convicted bombmaker that went unnoticed for four days.

The escapee, who was serving a life sentence for a 2007 murder in an explosion outside a Las Vegas resort, was captured on Wednesday night.

Sisolak said in a statement Friday he “requested and received Nevada Department of Corrections Director Charles Daniels’ resignation, effective immediately.” Six other officers were placed on administrative leave.

The embarrassing chain of events has put a spotlight on chronic staffing shortages at prisons throughout Nevada against a high-stakes political backdrop in the western battleground state a month before the November elections.

Republican sheriff in Las Vegas Joe Lombardo who’s running against the Democratic governor said authorities were lucky to catch the convicted killer after he got a “four-day head start.”

Leaders of the union representing state prison workers say it underscores the need for immediate action to ensure their safety as well as that of the public.

Metropolitan Police Department Capt Branden Clarkson looks on as body camera footage shows the apprehension and arrest of escaped inmate Porfirio Duarte-Herrera during a news conference in Las Vegas. PHOTO: AP

Sisolak and Lombardo are scheduled to face off in a debate in Las Vegas today – five years after they worked together to raise millions of dollars for victims of the October 1, 2017 mass shooting on the resort that left 58 dead and more than 850 injured.

Porfirio Duarte-Herrera, 42, escaped from the Southern Desert Correctional Center outside Las Vegas on September 23. State corrections officials didn’t realise until Tuesday he was not at the medium-security facility.

A tip led to his capture at a transit center in Las Vegas on Wednesday night as he prepared to board a bus out of town.

Lombardo said on Thursday at a joint news conference with an FBI special agent and the head of the US Marshals Service for Nevada that they were fortunate to catch up with Duarte-Herrera so quickly given he had a “four-day head start.”

“The policies and procedure and all the failures that occurred (last) Friday and up to Tuesday need to be addressed,” Lombardo said.

“Infrastructure issues and prison system staffing issues, the ability for this individual to do it – from what I’ve been told – as simply as he did it is a grave concern to me and the entire law enforcement community and the community as a whole,” he said.

The Department of Corrections has been silent on the circumstances of the escape from the beginning and officials declined to attend Thursday’s news conference. Efforts to reach Daniels on Friday weren’t immediately successful. No personal phone number is listed for him and department spokespeople did not immediately respond to an email from The Associated Press seeking assistance reaching Daniels for comment.

A former corrections officer at the prison who leads an advocacy group for correctional officers told Fox5Vegas that Duarte-Herrera made a dummy and used battery acid to break down the window frame of his jail cell. The guard tower that would have had eyes on the unit he escaped from was unmanned and had been for a couple of years, said the president of the Fraternal Order of Police Nevada CO Lodge 21 in North Las Vegas Paul Lunkwitz.

The head of the local union representing state correctional officers called on Friday for an immediate response to prison workers’ ongoing concerns about chronic understaffing and prioritise their safety.

“NDOC leadership has cut corners that have led to dangerous incidents, including removing guards at towers that maintain a constant visual on the outer fence lines that could have prevented the escape of a convicted murder,” AFSCME Local 4041 President Harry Schiffman said.

Criticism of the handling of the escape began as soon as Sisolak first announced on Tuesday that Duarte-Herrera had escaped September 23, that the inmate’s absence hadn’t been detected until a head count at the prison on Tuesday morning and that he was ordering an investigation.

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