Policy changes in place at jail

File photo Curry County officials are hoping a laundry list of policy changes coupled with surprise inspections by the county manager and others will eliminate escapes at the problem-plagued jail.

Robin Fornoff

Curry County officials are hoping a laundry list of policy changes coupled with surprise inspections by the county manager and others will eliminate escapes at the problem-plagued jail.

Tori Sandoval, interim jail administrator, recently outlined what she called key policy changes initiated days after a Nov. 13 escape by Narcizo Soto Jr., 35., of Clovis.

A more detailed list is expected to be presented to county commissioners at a Dec. 20 meeting.

Soto was the 14th inmate to escape the jail since 2002. He slipped out an unlocked door while being allowed — against policy — to work on an inmate night crew cleaning the floor.

Soto was recaptured by police hours later after being found hiding in the attic of a home about 10 blocks from the jail.

Soto, charged with felony assault and accused of shooting at his girlfriend’s car while her child was in it on Feb. 26, was classified a maximum security inmate, but convinced a jailer to put him on the work crew.

One supervisor was fired immediately after the escape and four other jail employees, including officers, face disciplinary action including possible termination following hearings expected to conclude later this week.

Sandoval said in addition to forbidding any maximum security inmate to ever work, other policy changes include not allowing any inmates to work in any unsecured areas; Soto escaped out a door in the unsecured administrative office area of the jail.

Sandoval said additional outside locks also have been placed on two doors that have never had locks. The new locking systems, coupled with not allowing any inmate in an unsecured area should prevent another Soto situation, she said.

Sandoval also said she, County Manager Lance Pyle and Assistant County Manager Connie Harrison are popping into the jail during odd hours for surprise inspections. It’s a move meant to prevent another Soto situation, she said, where a maximum security inmate was allowed to work almost a week without anyone questioning the practice.

“I pop in at all different hours now,” Sandoval said. “I’m coming in around the clock. The assistant county manager and Lance Pyle are coming in, too. They (jail employees) give me a list of who is out working and I have to approve it.”

Sandoval said every jail employee has been counseled on following policy.

“We have sent out a message,” Sandoval said. “If you don’t follow what I’ve implemented … there’s going to be a reaction. So a lot of people are seeing this; that ignoring the rules and policies is not going to be tolerated.

“I’m very confident in it,” she said.

At least one county commissioner, however, isn’t convinced and another is holding off comment until he sees a report from Sandoval and Pyle later this month.

“I think that anything we do with this jail is putting a Band-Aid on the real problem,” said Commissioner Robert Sandoval, who isn’t related to the interim director. “My question is why are they letting him (Soto) stay there. This jail was not built for bad guys like that. Some professionals have called it a minimum security facility and that is all it was ever designed to be.”

Sandoval said while he believed everything Sandoval and Pyle have initiated will help, the real solution is “either build a new jail or stop housing these really bad guys.”

Commission Chairman Caleb Chandler said he’s awaiting a written report at the Dec. 20 meeting before commenting.

“The bottom line,” said Chandler, “is that I think we’ve got have more accountability and more responsibility from management at the jail. That’s what we have a county manager for, is to come up with the blend to do that.”