Can an inmate escape the Riverside jail? Some have tried

06/30/2015 12:00 PM |
A security tower at the Suffolk County Correctional Facility in Riverside. (Credit: Paul Squire)

A security tower at the Suffolk County Correctional Facility in Riverside. (Credit: Paul Squire)

Chester Kutscher was en route to his second home in Malone, N.Y., last week when two ATVs flagged him down. Border police, on the hunt for two escaped convicts, shortly after searched Mr. Kutscher’s three-story home at his request.

Life turned upside down for residents upstate near the Canadian border in June as more than a thousand officers searched for Richard Matt and David Sweat before both men were finally captured; Mr. Matt was shot and killed Friday and Mr. Sweat was taken into custody Sunday. 

Mr. Kutscher, a 64-year-old Jamesport resident, said police patrolled his road 24/7 that weekend.

“I had coyotes howling at back of house at night,” he said -— an unusual occurrence because the animals don’t usually come near the buildings.

The brazen prison escape, which occurred almost 400 miles away from the North Fork, seemed like a script right out of Hollywood.

Could inmates at the Suffolk County Jail in Riverside ever pull off a similar feat? In the past 50 years, some have managed to briefly reach freedom. Others have resorted to less intricate escape plans by simply trying to scale the fence.

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“The last time we had a real escape was back in [1987], and that was before we had installed the razor wire systems that we have in place today,” said chief deputy sheriff Michael Sharkey. “It was more traditional barbed wire topped fences and things like that — an over-the-fence escape.”

Mark Daniels, an accused bank robber from Riverhead, was successful breaking out of the jail on Nov. 26, 1987, which was his second escape, according to News-Review archives.

“His flight to freedom lasted 96 hours,” the article states. “Daniels was in the jail’s outdoor recreation area playing basketball with other inmates when he bolted from the court, scaled three barbed-wired fences and ran to the facility’s parking lot, where he pulled a driver from a parked vehicle and sped away.”

The 23-year-old inmate was found hiding under ceiling insulation in a house on Oak Drive.

In another case that wasn’t technically a “prison escape,” a man charged with murder was released from the jail in October 1988 after he was confused with a man of the same name who was imprisoned for a traffic violation.

Jose Torres, who was 18 at the time, was set free after court officials brought the wrong Jose Torres to court to settle a traffic violation. He was released, located and returned to the same jail 10 months later in July 1989. The mistake was blamed on a broken jail computer, according to News-Review archives.

Seven years earlier, Clifford Burgess and Joseph St. Clair scaled the jail’s walls in November 1981. At the time, the News-Review reported that the two had climbed the fence, their hands protected with socks, as a large fight took place in the yard. Mr. St. Clair was apprehended within 20 minutes; Mr. Burgess was found near Brookhaven National Lab two days later by a police dog.

The only jail breaks recorded before that occurred approximately 25 years earlier.

According to a December 1955 article in the Long Island Traveler Watchman, a 43-year-old man escaped from the Suffolk County jail in September of that year. The man “fled in a sensational over-the-wall escape,” the newspaper wrote.

Less than two years later, in May 1957, it was reported that five boys, ages 17 to 19, tried to escape from the same jail. They enlisted a sixth inmate to help them escape, but he ratted out the other five, foiling their plan, according to archives in the Suffolk County News.

Mr. Sharkey said the jail’s current staff has protocols in place should an escape occur but declined to provide any details.

“We don’t obviously discuss the particulars of that because that’s meant to immediately intercede if someone were successful,” he said. “Putting out information like that is counterproductive to security.”

More recently, two attempts were made to flee the prison in the past five years. Both were unsuccessful.

In April 2011, a 16-year-old attempted to climb the jail’s fence but got caught in several layers of razor wire. He was captured within seven minutes and charged with first-degree attempted escape, according to a previous News-Review article.

In April 2014, a 30-year-old man also attempted to escape by scaling an interior fence, but was quickly caught by officer Barbara McFadden. The man was asked numerous times to get off the fence, but only began to comply once he reached its top layers of razor wire.

When asked about these recent escape attempts, Mr. Sharkey appeared to downplay them.

“It’s somebody trying to scale a fence. I don’t even think it rose to the level of being realistic that they even had a chance [of escaping],” he said.

Mr. Sharkey said increased security over the past 15 years has made escaping even more difficult. An exterior security line composed of razor-wire fence has proven to be key in preventing inmates from escaping the old-fashioned way: by scaling the fence.

“It makes it impenetrable,” he said. “Obviously, if somebody got out in upstate New York, nothing is impenetrable. We have not had any real close calls since we’ve hardened our perimeter.”

Caption: Border patrol guards search Jamesport resident Chester Kutscher’s home in Malone, N.Y. last week.

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Marc Daniels

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