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Saturday, February 15, 2014

Ionia Prison Escape: The Case Against Improper Inmate Classifications, Massive Perimeter Budgetary Cuts

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Inmates inside the fencing at a Michigan Prison Facility

IU News & Talk Exclusive
By Monica RW

"Deja vu, repeat or recycle.  Words to describe similarly in a series of events. Preventable actions which led 20 years later to the escape of convicted serial murderer Michael David Elliot from Ionia Correctional Facility on February 2, 2014."

Prisoner Elliot was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole by a Gladwin
Convicted Multiple Murderer and ICF February 2 escape
Prisoner - Michael Elliot
County, Michigan Courthouse twenty years ago, of the murders of four former state residents: Michael E. Tufnell, 33 and Vicki Sue Currie, 39, and visitors Bruce S. Tufnell, 32, and Kathy Lou Lane, 38.

Ensuring no evidence was left at the scene, Elliot along with convicted murdering accomplice Charles L. Treece torched house the four victims lay dead.

According to the court transcripts, Inmate Elliot “shot everyone in the back of the head" recounted witness Tammy LaCross, age 16, at the time of the crimes.  

Elliot failed to spare a bullet for his then girlfriend Kathy Lane or the other three victims: Tufnel, Currie or Squires Tuffnell, Jr.
“They found that there were victims in the house,” said Gladwin County Sheriff Mike Shea, a Deputy at the time of Elliot's murder rampage rocking the tranquil community of Bently Township. “We thought a structure fire with people inside that hadn’t woken up, and then it went on from that into a homicide.”
The Michigan Department of Corrections Offender Tracking Information System (OTIS) classifies Prisoner Michael Elliot, #236879 as a Security Classification- Level-2 (II) offender. The Level-2 security level that is normally reserved for convicted felons with little if any, risk of escape or past history crimes of violence.

Offenders are classified by a combination of factors consistent with: crime(s) inmates are convicted of, rules violations or crimes committed while in MDOC Custody and psychological behavior profile detailing tendencies or mental illnesses that could lead to acts of violence in Michigan Prisons.

The Michigan Department of Corrections details on the Departments' website how prisoners under custody in penal institutions are classified.

"Level I - V prison housing - In general, the higher the security level, the more security risk a prisoner presents in terms of manageability or escape potential. Level I has a single security fence and does not house sex offenders; Secure Level I can house sex offenders and has full security perimeters; Secure Level I and above all have secure perimeters which include double fences, razor wire, visdeo monitoring systems and a perimeter detection system. Some prisons have more than one security level.
The Security Classification protocol is used to determine the applicable level of custody of a prisoner during intake at either, Charles Egeler Reception and Guidance Center in Jackson for males 17 years of age and older, or at Women's Huron Valley Correctional Facility in Ypsilanti for female prisoners.
Security Classification - The system used by the department to determine the appropriate prison security level of a prisoner. Levels range from I (minimum) to V (maximum). Generally, the prisoner's institutional behavior, length of sentence and escape potential determine the appropriate level.
Inmate Michael David Elliot according to MDOC - OTIS system has four marks, scars or tattoos. Two on each forearm, with two additional marks or tattoos on each arm.

Prisoner Elliot is known by at least four aliases while serving time in MDOC custody after his convictions. The aliases include names such as Michael David Shearder, Michael David DeLarosa, Michigan D. DeLarosa and OCP.

The initials O.C.P connects to a popular movie in 1987 titled 'Robocop'.

In the fictional movie plot, O.C.P. stood for Omni Consumer Products mega-corporation based out of Detroit, Michigan as detailed on the website "Villains Wiki".

"(OCP) corporate headquarters is located in Detroit, Michigan. OCP controls the privatized police forces in Detroit, where they successfully created the Robocop, to help control the large crime spree in the city.

However, what OCP really wants is to overthrow the current government in Detroit, which they consider to be corrupt, and assume total control over the city. After this, they plan to demolish the entire city so as to construct Delta City in its place, their ideal city with fully privatized services; in fact, OCP would control every single aspect of the city."
Elliot was convicted of by a selected jury of his peers in 1994 of four counts of Murder in the First Degree (MCL-750.316), one count of Robbery Armed (MCL-750.529), Burning Dwellings of a House (MCL-750.72) Possession Of Firearm During Committing Of Felony (MCL-750.227B) and an inactive conviction of Breaking and an inactive conviction of Entering - Entry Without Breaking With Intent (MCL-750.111). 

The nature of violence associated with Elliot's crimes, likely would result in Security classification level after assessment at Charles Egeler Reception and Guidance Center in Jackson as Level 4 or 5 (IIII or V) "Closed" penal facility inmate.

According to OTIS, Inmate Elliot has spent a majority of his sentence at Ionia's Correctional Facility (ICF).

Ionia, a former level VI 'SuperMax' penal institution for males was reclassified as Level-5 (V) prison in recent years.

Security Concerns at ICF and other Michigan Prisons
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder along with fellow Republican colleagues holding a majority in the State House and Senate in 2012, cut approximately $15 million dollars from MDOC's budget, detailed by Bridge Magazine writer Pat Shellenbarger at the time.

"The state Department of Corrections will cut back on patrols outside its prison walls and change the job classifications of some corrections officers next month to save an estimated $25 million a year. But the head of the union representing the nearly 8,000 corrections officers complained those moves could make the prisons less safe, while acknowledging there is little the union can do to prevent them.
Corrections Department officials disagree that the changes will make the prisons less secure, but say the changes are necessary to rein in the amount Michigan spends on corrections, now about $2 billion, more than 20 percent of the state’s general fund budget.
“We’re under tremendous pressure to do whatever we can to reduce our costs,” Corrections Department spokesman Russ Marlan said. Corrections Director Daniel Heyns is “going to look at ways to cut costs,” he added, “but he’s not going to put in place anything that would jeopardize the safety of his officers or the public.”
President of Michigan Corrections Organization (MCO), Tom Tylutki during an exclusive interview on Independent Underground Radio LIVE January 8, 2013, affirmed prison perimeter security cuts made the 'last line of defense' of State Penal Institutions vulnerable for inmates escape attempts. 
"One of the biggest tools that we lost in the Department of Corrections was the Armed Response Vehicle (ARV). Up until recently, we had an armed officer in a vehicle that the perimeter twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week," Tylutki stated. "And we always referred to that as our first and last line of defense."
"It was our first line of defense because it served as a deterrent from citizens coming onto the perimeter, throwing things over the fence. And it was our last line of defense because if a prisoner somehow or another got through the fence, they (Correctional Officers) were there."
Tylutki described an incident at Kinross Correctional Facility Kincheloe, Michigan on July 15, 2010, where the presence of an ARV, circling outside perimeter of the institution, prevented three convicted murderers escape attempt.
"Like the case in Kinross. We had three convicted murders that drove a semi-truck through the fence. And all three of them were headed into an industrial clinic area, where there were civilians," said MCO President Tylutki. 
And the Officer on duty, in the full time ARV at that point, drew his weapon and gave them an order to stop. When they refused to stop, he shot and fatally killed one inmate that was a convicted murder and the other two came to a halt, and hit the ground." 
We always wonder, we think that was a bad scenario. If we did not have a full-time ARV, those inmates would've gotten to the public and it would not have been a pretty scene."
Convicted murderer Elliot was able to penetrate at least two layers security fencing at ICF, prying apart the metal fence apart with snow and possibly a hammer for over an hour and successfully escaping underneath.

Wearing a white kitchen detail uniform to blend with snow on the grounds at ICF, Elliot managed to escape from the facility. A short time later the convicted multiple murder carjacked a victim by pulling a plastic utensil shaped into a knife.
"There is a gun tower located right above the Level II Housing Unit, Prisoner Elliot was assigned," said a source with details of the inside layout of ICF. "If the gun tower was staffed by an officer, with direct access in an arms race to a shotgun, the likelihood Elliot would've successful escape attempt was pretty damn low."
ICF has six gun towers at the institution. Before massive cuts to MDOC's budget for perimeter security, all six gun towers were staffed Trained Correctional Officers 24/7/365.

Officers assigned to gun towers are responsible for if any inmate is observed attempting an escape by penetrating security fencing, to first fire a warning shot after clearance from a shift Commanding Supervisor. The Officer would shoot to stop the prisoner from reaching land outside as a second security deterrent measure, if the inmate refused to cease all attempts in escaping the from facility.

All Michigan Corrections Officers are required to re-certify the ability to meet or exceed the accuracy and range targets, with a shotgun annually. Staff formerly assigned to Gun Towers at ICF were replaced by Security Cameras.

After budgetary cuts an assigned Correctional Officer (C/O) intermittently circles by car or foot, the institution outside perimeters. Another C/O is assigned to a 'Sallyport' tower during business hours and when necessary for inspecting vehicles entering the facility for prisoner transport, emergencies or other services.

ICF C/O Paul Jensen, a former United States Marine Veteran works with the Department, wrote a letter December 2012, foreshadowing dangers at the facility to MDOC Director Daniel Heyns, after the cuts to perimeter security, staff and changes in prisoner reclassification levels were announced.

Independent Underground News & Talk substantiated the letter was written by C/O Jensen.

Situations Officer Jensen describes in portions the letter, are graphic in nature.

"In my career as a Corrections Officer I have been bit. Punched. Kicked. Stabbed. Spit on. I have had urine thrown on me. Feces thrown on me. I have done what most normal persons, avoid-I run into combat engagements, often where weapons are present between individuals that the general public would often express at best an unfavorable sentiment towards. 
My coworkers and I stop these fights. We stop the assaults. We start the treatment of wounded individuals-both staff and convicted felons. I have seen convicted felons pull their intestines from their own body and wrap them around their heads. I have seen men stabbed through every portion of their body. I have seen all of this and stood firm, because I understand what is expected of me, and I serve with honor.
I am proud of my career, and when asked I do not shy from telling people what we do, and how much worse things would be without us standing watch over these unstable, and often violent individuals in this dynamic environment.
In your eighteen months as Director of this Department I have watched you, and your subordinates, tear this department apart with divisive and often perplexing decisions. You claim loudly you'd like to see Corrections Officers approach this career with more professionalism-as if we somehow lacked the same integrity and dedication others in the Law Enforcement hold. (An implication I find offensive at a level I can't politely or respectfully express in words.)

Your actions however make me question this-my training has seen it is worst cuts under your administration, and I frankly wonder how you expect these professionals of tomorrow to perform their duties with clarity and purpose when your administration seems unilaterally dedicated to ensuring we receive little if any quality training.

We've lost custody and security positions like the Alert Response Vehicle-which, given how much contraband is being thrown over fences, statewide is a decision this department will regret; decreased staffing levels.
(Experienced) arbitrary reductions in the security levels of violent offenders; a computerized filing system that was preceded by the wholesale destruction of tens of thousands of documents in prisoner files many times prior to these documents being scanned into a computer somewhere.
A systematic short staffing of our facilities that is as dangerous as it is perplexing, the loss of Resident Unit Officers followed by the blatantly disrespectful order to keep these officers in their assignments-a less than desirable position that requires so much more work than many people even working these positions realized.
(Along with) a perplexing decision to seek privatized services when they're clearly not cost effective, let alone safe. This list is far from exhaustive, and whether you realize it or not sir, your workforce is bruised."
Testifying before a State Senate Subcommittee, February 13, 2014, MDOC Director blamed Prisoner Elliot's successful escape attempt on a perplexing mix of 'complacency and equipment failure.'

Director Heyns told elected a State Committee investigating the escape last Friday, the Department is monitoring if the equipment had been properly maintained and procedures followed, which could have prevented Prisoner Elliot escape from ICF.

Heyns went on to explain that MDOC Facilities throughout the state, are experiencing a system-wide security technology upgrade -- adding security cameras, additional lighting and motion detectors. Estimated costs of the added technology, in the place of an armed ARV Correctional Officer plus maintaining fully trained C/O staff in prison gun towers statewide, is $1 million per facility, 
Heyns claimed. 
Michigan currently has 36 penal institutions.

An estimated $15 million dollars in cuts to perimeter security, staff and other reductions from MDOC's budget during 2012. The measure was led by the State House and Senate Republican majority votes, and signed by Governor Rick Snyder.

It is unknown at this time if the technology upgrades or lack their of, resulted in Prisoner Elliot's ability in exiting without oversight, the penal institution.

Heyns told the subcommittee the prison was properly equipped, the inmate was appropriately classified within the prison system and the prison was properly staffed. But, Director Heyns said as quoted in the Detroit News February 14, “if people don’t do their jobs, it does you no good.”
“Complacency” he said, had developed at the Ionia facility. “I don’t know when it set in ... (but) I own that problem,” Heyns said.
ICF C/O Jensen letter to Director Heyns, nearly two years ago, add questions if staff 'complacency' was the issue or, cuts to staffing levels led since 2012 was an factor leading to Prisoner Elliot's escape on February 2.
"Lack of staff has lead to more and more Officers working extended periods of time without proper rest periods, in a dynamic and dangerous environment.
In the Marine Corps we realized the value of properly rested and properly trained Marines. While it may be true that this overtime may seem desirable from a strictly narrow point of view when considering ones' paycheck. However, many of us would simply prefer to work the hours we're scheduled to work," Officer Jensen wrote.
"We feel like this short staffing is a purposeful decision on your part to avoid negotiating for 12 hour shifts. A dangerous tactic to exhaust and divide us; to drive us into simply accepting your plan.
This also has the net effect of making many of us believe you simply don't care what we think, and while you'll politely answer our emails that you frankly don't care what experiences we have to share, or what concerns we have," Jensen expressed.
Deja vu: Security Cuts, Prisoner Security Classification in the MDOC

Prisoner Elliot forced an unidentified female state resident, to spend up hours in fear of her life during his successful escape attempt from ICF. Reports account Inmate Elliot carjacked and kidnapped the victim using a hammer and altered kitchen utensil craved into a knife.

The victim was able to escape from Elliot's capture after the inmate stop by an Elkhart, Indiana Convenience Store. While Elliot brought items into the store, the victim called 911 using a hidden cell phone in a locked restroom.

"He didn't say where, exactly, he just said somewhere far," she says in the 911 call, telling the dispatcher about the escaped convict she says had abducted her some two hours before with a box cutter (later confirmed to be an altered utensil) and a hammer."
A short time later, as victim phoned law enforcement officials, the convicted murder demanded she open the door at the same time.
"He's knocking on the bathroom door saying, 'Let's go!' " the 911 dispatcher says to other emergency workers in recordings released by authorities.
On a routine cell block round check, assigned prison unit C/O's discovered Elliot was missing from his cell about 9:30 p.m. February 2.

Correctional Officers are required to perform rounds every half hour. Inmates in school, the Fieldhouse yard, working on prison grounds, segregation, receiving medical care or otherwise out of their cell location must be verifiedPrisoners movement around the facility grounds normally is complete by 8:00 p.m., making C/O's responsibility of accounting for inmate movement less complex.

For Prisoner Elliot to not be found in his cell during the 9:30 p.m. round, and verified as accounted by earlier rounds in other areas on facility grounds, in a segregation or receiving medical care on or off-site; would signal to unit C/O's a possible escape attempt has occurred.

The inmate Elliot's carjacking victim, is alive by a series of heroic actions: slipping away from the multiple murder sight, locking herself in a restroom and using a hidden cell phone to warn law enforcement officials of Elliot's escape and her capture under distress. Other victims of breakdown of security protocols at Michigan Prisons do not end in opportune outcomes, both the public and victims hope, occurs.

As in the case of former Huron Valley Correctional Facility Storekeeper, Tammy Sperle violent murder by inmate Clarence Watson Herndon February 5, 1996.

Sperle is one of eleven MDOC employees killed in the Line of Duty, the only fallen staff member in the 1990's and one or two workers killed by inmates violent histories, over the last 18 years

The other employee was fallen Food Service Worker Doris Taylor at The Thumb Correctional Facility, killed in the Line of Duty, May 17, 1998.

As in the case of Prisoner Elliot's escape, Sperle's murder was preventable.

A lawsuit filed behalf of Sperle's estate by widow Allan Sperle, reached the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals June 19, 2002, six years after the mother of three and wife untimely death. Tammy Sperle started working with the MDOC two years prior to her murder by Prisoner Clarence Hendon #136007.

Sperle work duties included supervising inmates alone without Correctional Staff present. As a female working alone in an enclosed area designated as the inmates' commissary, Sprele supervised a three prisoners during the convicts employment duties.

Prisoner Hendon had a past carrying out violent actions on female staff.

A review of Herndon's MDOC - OTIS file reveals one of three active sentences the inmate is serving time for includes Assaulting An Employee Or Escape Jail (MCL- 750.197C) from the county of Jackson. The date of this offense occurred June 8, 1986, ten years prior to Prisoner Herndon's murder of decreased in the Line of Duty, former MDOC employee Sperle.

"It's well known Inmate Herndon stabbed a female C/O in Jackson Prison with a screwdriver, in her stomach. By the grace of God, she was able to survive her injuries," a Correctional Officer familiar with Prisoner Herndon's record expressed. 
"Herndon should've never been assigned to the store with a female staff member working alone, as the inmate classification process if used as intended that is, is designed to prevent this."
Jackson County, Michigan Court Files search of Case #86041619 FH 38 verifies the unidentified Corrections Officer assertions on Prisoner Hendon's violent past history with staff before Sperle's untimely murder.

Inmate Herndon was adjudicated on October 17, 1986 two charges: Assault (on) Prison Employees and Felonious Assault. Michigan Compiled Law Section 750.82, defines the charge of Felonious Assault.

"....A person who assaults another person with a gun, revolver, pistol, knife, iron bar, club, brass knuckles, or other dangerous weapon without intending to commit murder or to inflict great bodily harm less than murder is guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment for not more than 4 years or a fine of not more than $2,000.00, or both."
The widowed spouse of Tammy Sperle, Allan Sperle alleged during the estate lawsuit against the State of Michigan, other MDOC Officials and Prisoner Herndon, a litany of security failures led to the death of his wife.
"The first dispute pertains to the yard sergeant's key ring, which included a key to the store's exterior door. Both parties agree that the key ring was reported missing on December 11, 1995. Allan Sperle contends that its whereabouts was not fully established prior to his wife's murder. 
The second subject of disagreement relates to the availability of personal protection devices (PPDs) for HVMF employees working in the school building. A PPD emits an electronic signal that enables employees to communicate with the HVMF's security guards in the event of an emergency.  

If the button on a PPD is pressed, an alarm sounds in the prison's control center to indicate that the staff member to whom the transmitting PPD has been assigned is in danger and needs assistance.
The defendants acknowledge that Tammy Sperle was not wearing a PPD on the day of her murder and had not previously been issued a PPD.
The third disputed subject is the method by which Herndon entered the store before strangling Tammy Sperle. Although the defendants contend that Tammy Sperle must have seen Herndon through the window and voluntarily allowed him to enter the store by opening the prison-yard door for him, Allan Sperle notes that the absence of any eyewitnesses prevents anyone from knowing for sure how Herndon entered. 
Allan Sperle raises the possibility that Herndon might have opened the door with the key from the yard sergeant's key ring or a copy of that key.  
(Another dispute in the lawsuit included) whether defendant Andrew Jackson, the warden at the HVMF, refused to make himself available to Larry Thomas, an inmate who wanted to warn him about impending danger to Tammy Sperle.  
In a note written on prisoner stationery the day after the murder, Thomas stated that he had attempted to speak with Warden Jackson about a threat on Tammy Sperle's life in January of 1996."
The Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ultimately found Allan Sperle did not prove the 'egregious' standard test, violating 'arbitrary in the constitutional sense' inactions by MDOC Officials. Additionally, Tammy Sperle's loss of life failed to meet the legal 'deliberate-indifference' standard of a Substantive Due Process claim.
"Even if the individual defendants could have made the working conditions safer for Tammy Sperle by providing PPDs to school building employees, adding extra security guards, or insuring greater supervision of Herndon, they did not act in an arbitrary manner that “shocks the conscience” or that indicates any intent to injure her.  Lewellen v. Metro. Govt. of Nashville & Davidson County, 34 F.3d 345, 351 (6th Cir.1994)," the U.S. 6th Circuit Court wrote.
Prison Officials should've made the conditions surrounding former MDOC Employee Tammy Sperle safer by proper security classification of Inmate Herndon and limiting his contact with female staff, alone.

Prisoner Herndon first entered MDOC Custody after being criminally convicted of Assault w/Intent to Commit Murder (MCL-750.83) on October 17, 1985, eleven months and a day prior to his subsequent conviction of assault on a Correctional Staff employee at Jackson Prison.

Inmate Herndon prior stints under DOC authority includes convictions for Assault with Intent to Rob while Armed (MCL-750.89) from August 8, 1973 and Robbery Armed (MCL-750.529) on November 29, 1976.

Prior to Sperle's murder, Prisoner Herndon was classified under Level -4 (IIII) 'Closed' Custody Security Profile at former Huron Valley Men's Correctional Facility. Additional restrictions under MDOC Security Classification Protocol were available to limit Herndon contact with female staff members without additional supervision.

Herndon continues to serve a Life Sentence for Murder in the First Degree killing of Sperle, in the Line of Duty, at ICF. ICF is the penal institution convicted serial murderer Michael Elliot made his successful escape attempt, February 2.

Prisoner Herndon is Security Classification according to MDOC-OTIS System is Level-5 (V). Before Prisoner Elliot's escape at the Ionia Correctional Facility, the Inmate Security Classification was Level-2 (II).

"Weeks prior to Prisoner Elliot's escape, we learned that another inmate was plotting to escape the facility. Rumors around the prison alleged this Prisoner said the Department pulling Officers out of the Gun Towers making opportunities to get away, easier," the unidentified department employee asserted.
"And after performing a routine search of the facility grounds and inmate cells after this incident, 100 feet of rope was found in a prisoner's cell. That type of contraband getting into the facility, shows how bad things have gotten around here, for security."
A report from Fox News 17 Online, confirms the unidentified C/O assertions.

On December 14, Prisoner Lekeldric Porter, convicted in 2005 of Armed Robbery and Assault w/ Attempt to Commit Murder in Grand Rapids successfully escaped from one of the two security fences. Ironically, Prisoner Porter's escape attempt occurred at the same area Inmate Elliot was able to penetrate both security fences for over an hour, and escape.

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