Jail employees speak out to ABC11 I-Team following inmate escape

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BySamantha Kummerer WTVD logo
Monday, May 8, 2023
Virginia jail employees speak out following inmate escape
At times, as few as six officers would be on a shift responsible for keeping track of around 700 inmates, jail employees tell ABC11.

FARMVILLE, Va. (WTVD) -- Major questions remain a week after two federal inmates escaped from the Piedmont Regional Jail in Farmville, Virginia.

The multiagency days-long chase led to both inmates being captured, but leaders at the Virginia facility have not shared to avoid sharing details on what led to the offenders going undetected for 26 hours.

"I was at a loss of words when I found out," said one Piedmont Regional Jail officer who spoke to the ABC11 I-Team anonymously. "I was like, how did that happen for so long? Why did you not notice something? I mean, come on now. It's not that complicated. And apparently, nobody noticed."

The officer said the jail only found out about the escape because another inmate gave an officer a letter alerting them.

The facility chose not to answer the I-Team's numerous questions regarding the escape and actions following the incident.

The facility shared that the two inmates, Alder Marin-Sotelo and Bruce Callahan, escaped by manipulating the locks on the exterior doors and climbing the fence. The pair escaped around 22 hours apart.

Marine-Sotelo was being held at the facility for charges related to the murder of Wake County deputy Ned Byrd.

Current and former jail employees told ABC11 that locks have been an issue for months.

Wake County Sheriff Willie Rowe discusses capture of jail escapee Alder Marin-Sotelo.

"When I heard how they escaped, how they found out they escaped, and everything that went on, I wasn't surprised because the locks in that facility can be faulty. And it's been told to the superintendent many times," a former jail officer shared. "Safety should be a priority and it was not."

Employees said it was a safety risk for officers as well.

"You've got officers that are begging and pleading for you to get something fixed in the jail and it's not getting fixed," the officer said.

Piedmont Regional Jail Board Authority meeting minutes show leaders had discussed replacing locks in certain areas of the jail for months.

Documents uncovered by the ABC11 I-Team show that the jail in Virginia where Alder Marin-Sotelo escaped had recent concerns about malfunctioning locks.

"Replacing Cell Door Locks M pod and D pod.. this continues to be an area of great concern to the security of the facility. These housing areas are used for maximum security offenders," one meeting document stated.

"You think that that would be a priority because you are handling federal inmates, you are handling dangerous people. It never seemed like a priority to get those locks fixed," a former employee remembered.

In a statement last week, leaders at the facility said, "While it is true that the Piedmont Regional Jail Authority Board has discussed door lock replacement in previous meetings, such discussions pertained to interior doors in a different housing pod from which the inmates escaped."

But current and former employees told ABC11 that the locks weren't the only thing they believe contributed to the escape. Short staffing also likely played a part.

Documents show from the latest Piedmont Regional Jail Authority Board meeting, the facility had vacancies for 27 officers.

"The entire time I was there we were understaffed. We were definitely not near as staffed as we should have been," the former employee said. "A lot of times we have callouts and it would leave us very stranded for help."

SEE ALSO | 'How did this happen?' Man charged in Deputy Ned Byrd murder case escapes from jail in Virginia

One of the men arrested in connection to the murder of Wake County Deputy Ned Byrd has escaped jail.

They shared that at times, as few as six to eight officers on a shift would be responsible for keeping track of around 700 inmates.

While the facility does regularly do headcounts of inmates, has a watch tower and cameras around the facility, the employees ABC11 spoke with said short-staffing may have impacted how well those procedures were carried out.

"There's no way it was done properly," a current officer said.

The Piedmont Regional Jail Authority Board posted a statement last week that said they are continuing to "ensure that a thorough investigation is performed and any personnel or facility issues that are identified are remedied immediately."