County manager: One jail employee terminated

CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks Curry County Interim Detention Administrator Tori Sandoval gives a report Tuesday to county commissioners on the status of the detention center regarding on-going training for her staff.

By David Stevens and Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff

One jail employee has been terminated in connection with Sunday’s jail escape, Curry County Manager Lance Pyle said Tuesday afternoon.

Pyle, who would not name the employee, said the investigation into the Sunday escape of Narcizo Soto Jr., 35, who was recaptured 18 hours later, was ongoing. He hoped to have it completed by the end of the week.

During the Tuesday morning county commission meeting, Pyle said, “This incident will proceed with employees being terminated.” Later, Pyle clarified to the CNJ that, “At least a termination will occur.”

During the meeting, commissioners also learned the escapee had been working around the jail for a week, in violation of jail policy.

Interim jail administrator Tori Sandoval said Soto should not have been allowed to work outside his pod because of his maximum-security classification. She said she first learned of the violation of jail policy when she was told about Soto’s escape.

“The first thing out of my mouth,” Sandoval said, “was, ‘Why was that individual out?’”

Soto ran out an unsecured door while stripping floors in the jail’s administration office about 1:30 Sunday morning. Sandoval said most detail work is not done at that time, but floor details are scheduled during early morning hours because of reduced traffic in the detention center.

Officials said during the detail, a detention officer was distracted, which allowed Soto to escape. He was recaptured Sunday night and returned to the jail.

Commission Chairman Caleb Chandler said the escape of Soto, the 14th prisoner to escape the facility since 2002, was another hit in public confidence.

“I really think the citizens of Curry County deserve better than this,” Chandler said. “(They shouldn’t have to find out) the person that tried to kill them is back on the street, and hadn’t been released.”

Pyle agreed, saying, “This cannot occur; this has to be addressed.”

Commissioners questioned the logic of county officials who have promised changes in policy, because adherence to existing policy wouldn’t have put Soto in a position to escape. Chandler instructed Pyle to address that issue fully during the next commission meeting.

“It isn’t the policies that are the problem,” Commissioner Bobby Sandoval said. “It’s the employees that aren’t following them. If the captain tells the sergeant to do something, the sergeant doesn’t and a guy escapes, it isn’t the fault of the policies.”

Bobby Sandoval said the county, “screwed up,” and that included the commissioners, but he also had concerns that a prisoner with Soto’s violent history and record of eluding authorities was not placed in a state corrections department facility.

Commissioner Wendell Bostwick said the county needs to make sure it follows standard procedure for whatever disciplinary action it takes.

“If somebody let my cows out, they probably wouldn’t be working for me tomorrow,” Bostwick said. “We put these policies in place, and then somebody I’ll call an incompetent person took it upon himself to do something different. That just turns me backwards.”

Pyle told commissioners that jail employees are disciplined for not following policy, and some have been fired and suspended in recent months.