- The Washington Times - Monday, June 26, 2006

Nonworking radios and a lack of personnel supervision at the D.C. Department of Corrections facilitated the escape of two murder suspects from the D.C. Jail early this month, city law-enforcement officials said yesterday.

“The majority of [radios] are not functional at this time,” said Cpl. Nila Ritenour of the Fraternal Order of Police.

“Sometimes, you’ll be able to hear what someone’s saying; other times, you can’t hear what someone’s saying,” she said.

Cpl. Ritenour and other officials testified yesterday morning at a hearing of the D.C. Council’s Committee on the Judiciary, led by council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat.

The hearing focused on the June 3 escape of Ricardo Jones and Joseph Leaks from the city’s 30-year-old detention center in Southeast, which houses about 2,500 inmates a month.

The inmates — both suspects in the same murder case — broke into the warden’s office, smashed through the reinforced glass of a second-story office window and jumped onto a canopy before catching a shuttle bus to the Minnesota Avenue Metro station. They were recaptured June 4 in Maryland and Virginia.

After the escape, correctional officers used their personal cell phones to contact other jail personnel because their radios weren’t working, Cpl. Ritenour said yesterday. If the radios had been working, a group of officers stationed close to where the inmates escaped could have helped in the pursuit, she said.

Other authorities said the escape resulted from multiple failures in the jail, including a breakdown in the classification system that allowed Mr. Leaks to be on a work detail that gave him access to the warden’s office and let him move through the jail unsupervised.

Devon Brown, director of the Department of Corrections, said yesterday that changes must be made to ensure the classification system is working.

“When you look at the classification restrictions that were in place, we definitely can say that Mr. Leaks should not have been authorized to have the classification that allowed him free movement on detail,” Mr. Brown said.

“The whole system is capable of improvements, and that’s why I came here.”

Mr. Brown said nine jail employees have been placed on administrative leave, including a high-level administrator and several correctional officers and nonuniformed staffers, pending a criminal investigation of the jailbreak.

He said the investigation will be completed within the next two weeks.

The hearing yesterday also noted that a jail siren failed to sound and notify community members of the escape.

Mr. Brown said the siren will be tested every Saturday at noon for 15 seconds.

Since the escape, his office has installed four large strobe lights on the jail’s rooftop, added an armed officer to patrol the jail’s perimeter and made plans to purchase two patrol dogs, Mr. Brown said.

Mr. Jones and Mr. Leaks were awaiting trial in the slaying of David Valentine, who was found fatally shot July 6 in front of Mr. Leaks’ residence in the 1200 block of Meigs Place in Northeast.

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