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Arizona prisons boosting security after 2 inmates escaped in January

John Charpiot David Harmon Arizona escaped inmates.jpeg
Posted at 1:06 PM, Dec 03, 2021

FLORENCE, AZ — After two inmates escaped from a prison in Florence and evaded authorities for five days in January, the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation, and Reentry found a history of security lapses, including malfunctioning fences and lights and lax practices for headcounts and tool inventory.

ADCRR announced Friday it is implementing additional security measures including more fencing, reinforced gates, detection systems, enhanced storage system requirements, and annual inspections by the Inspector General.

John B. Charpiot and David T. Harmon escaped from the south unit of Arizona's medium-security prison complex in Florence on January 23. They were captured outside of Coolidge on January 28.

Ten months ago, ABC15 requested public records about the inmates' escape and security measures. ADCRR released approximately 1,500 pages on Friday just before issuing its news release about security improvements. Dozens of pages, detailing the investigation into the escape itself and security breaches that night, were completely redacted, which prevents a full understanding of what went wrong.

Other records show the security chief responsible for Florence's south unit chose to retire instead of facing discipline for lapses in prison safety protocols. Investigators had questioned Captain Rodrick Williams about failures in inspecting, reporting and fixing problems with perimeter fencing, and non-functional lights, and missing tools in the months prior to the escape.

A corrections supervisor, Margaret Castorena, received a written reprimand for ongoing failures in ensuring her subordinates accurately tracked the movement of people inside the facility.

Officials previously said Charpiot and Harmon knocked down an A/C unit and broke through a prison wall to gain access to a tool shed. The two inmates then stole bolt cutters, wire snips, and other items that were used to cut through the facility's fencing. Those items were found outside the prison complex, according to officials.

The inmates had a significant head start, according to documents reviewed by ABC15. They were discovered missing following a headcount around 8:30 p.m. on January 23. A wider search for the men led to the discovery of a hole in the perimeter fence at 10 p.m. The last time officials had accounted for the inmates was six hours earlier at the 4 p.m. count. Corrections officers stationed in the prison that night, including the one in the tower, did not recall seeing the men at any point during their escape.

Charpiot was incarcerated in 2011 and was serving a 35-year sentence following convictions for child molestation and sexual abuse charges, according to the ADCRR. Harmon was convicted of kidnapping and second-degree burglary and was admitted in 2012, the start of a 100-year sentence.

“Public safety is always our top priority,” said ADCRR Director David Shinn, in a written statement. “In order to safeguard against such an event happening in the future, we immediately began a wide-ranging, in-depth review and investigation into the circumstances surrounding the escape and we have implemented several system-wide changes going forward.”

Charpiot and Harmon are awaiting trial on charges related to the escape.