Jail worker resigns — before he’s fired

An Osceola County Jail worker taken hostage at gunpoint during an escape attempt last June resigned recently rather than be fired.

Corrections Officer Gerson Roche said he quit after supervisors singled him out for endangering the lives of co-workers in a chronically understaffed jail.

Although the 15-year officer admitted he failed to follow safety rules, the county has not disclosed anything about the jail’s security failures. Officials have declined to discuss how a loaded pistol and two cell phones were smuggled inside the walls for the attempted escape June 22.

On Friday, Roche accused the county of years of cutting corners at the jail.

“There wasn’t any security,” Roche said. “For years and years it’s been like that. Uniform COs [corrections officers] have been allowed to go in there at night without being checked.” A metal detector operated in the jail lobby to prevent contraband from reaching inmates went unmanned most nights from 5:30 p.m. to 5:30 a.m., said Roche, who resigned Aug. 27.

Corrections Chief Greg Futch did not respond to requests Thursday and Friday to comment on allegations about the unmanned security post.

“I was very close to losing my life because the jail’s security fell apart,” said Roche, who was rescued by another officer who disarmed an inmate holding a gun to Roche’s head. “Of course, it was easy to smuggle the gun in. That’s why they’re hiring all the people now.”

Despite recent layoffs of 70 other Osceola County employees, the Corrections Department began a hiring blitz after the June 22 incident and the suicide of an inmate a day later.

The jail is hiring 95 officers and 28 workers during the next 14 months, according to Osceola County. The staff currently has 170 officers overseeing about 1,200 inmates.

Roche worked in the jail’s medical unit. That was where inmate Angel Santiago, serving three life sentences, was housed while awaiting trial for armed robbery. A 9mm Sig-Sauer pistol and cell phones were smuggled to him there, according to jail and sheriff’s reports.

Santiago jumped Roche when Roche allowed the high-risk inmate to make a phone call without first chaining his hands behind his back. Rules also required Roche to summon a second officer and a supervisor to observe the escort. Despite those rules, Roche said, short staffing made working alone a common practice.

During the incident, Santiago put the Sig-Sauer against Roche’s head and told him he would kill him.

An Internal Affairs investigation challenged Roche’s account, stating all other officers and nurses assigned to the medical unit said high-risk inmates always were moved according to policy.

Former Corrections Officer Michelle Hung was arrested on numerous charges related to the escape attempt. She also is accused of being romantically involved with Santiago, records show.

A sheriff’s report states Hung, 44, visited Santiago, 28, in the medical unit days before the escape attempt.

The county’s release of an extensively blacked-out copy of its Internal Affairs investigation prompted Roche to speak. He said it unfairly blamed him alone for not conducting random daily searches of Santiago’s cell, which were required by policy.

Eight officers are assigned to the medical unit, but he said he is the only one blamed for not finding Santiago’s cell phones.

Roche, 45, previously worked at a state prison in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico. Osceola hired him in 2004, citing a staff shortage. He earned $41,000 a year, received a commendation in 2006 for saving a suicidal inmate’s life and was faulted for tardiness.

His final mistake happened Aug. 22, when Roche opened a high-risk inmate’s cell door for 10 seconds without calling for back-up while he passed the man a dustpan and broom, records show.

“No more than one month ago you committed a similar safety violation by escorting a high-risk inmate alone, which resulted in an attempted escape,” an Internal Affairs report stated. “You jeopardized the safety and security of the officers and staff who were working that night. Furthermore, your actions compromised the security operations of the jail.”
source: http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/local/breakingnews/sflosceola-jail-guard-090409,0,7443755.story

One Response

  1. I am not surprize in way the Correctional Management, operates, under County Supervision. There has been many problems over the years within the jail.

    Starting with their hiring practices and failing to hired more experience and trust worthly personnel.

    In the early 90’s it was the “Good Old Boys” attitude and now its bleeding heart liberals that run the Correctional system.

    Their Inmate Escapes are also a problem, over the past years and I might add a discrace to everyone concerned.

    When Inmates are able to get “Guns” & Cell Phones into Jails & Prisons, this clearly shows, the lack of real security and I wouldn’t want to work in that facility, for all the money in the world.
    Has for hiring personnel, that they claim; they aren’t even started, since this dangerous incident.
    Besides there isn’t enough funds in the Budget, to hired even one person. The Country is falling apart and we are going into a deep depression.
    The Countys problem(s) is they “Failed” to properly “Plan” for the future, for More Crime(s) and for hiring more Officers.

    Retired Corrections Officer
    Military Police Officer
    Prisoner Escort – Chaser ( U.S. Marines )

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