Lamp’s role in escape still dim after report

Nearly four months after a murder suspect escaped from a youth detention facility, it is still unclear who’s to blame for the facility’s fatal flaw: a misplaced lamp that allowed the fugitive to be boosted over the wall.

The lamp is only mentioned in passing in the 19-page, $54,000 report released this week, although the private investigators looked at a plethora of defects in the staffing, training, protocol and facility structure they say also contributed to the escape.

The escapee, Josue Orozco, was accused at age 14 of murdering a Redwood City man. He awaited trial for three years before escaping Feb. 14 from the Youth Services Center, which is located in the unincorporated Highlands neighborhood in the hills above San Mateo.

Orozco was allegedly boosted by two other inmates to a lamp on the wall that was mistakenly constructed 12 feet up instead of at the facility’s standard 15-foot height.

Orozco used the lamp to jump over the cinderblock wall and to an outer chain-link fence, which had been cut open by an accomplice on the outside. He remains at large.

Immediately after the escape, the county Board of Supervisors authorized an independent investigation into the matter. The county hired the National Council on Crime and Delinquency to perform the investigation. A draft of that study was released Wednesday.

A Freedom of Information Act request filed by The Examiner for the blueprint of the wall and lamp in question was rejected by the county, which said those documents were not required to be disclosed.

But after the report was released Wednesday, county officials and a neighboring resident said they still had unanswered questions.

County Manager John Maltbie said knowing whether the lamp was misplaced in the facility’s architectural design or was placed in error by the construction company could potentially lead to a lawsuit against the person responsible.

“If it wasn’t built in accordance with the architectural plan, then we may have a case against the contractor,” he said.

Though the report does not address the lamp question, it did provide more clarity about what occurred the night of the escape, and it makes recommendations about how to better address and prevent escapes in the future.

According to the report, the county’s response the night of the escape was clouded with confusion, complacency and miscommunication.

Among many other recommendations, it advises that the facility increase its security staff by 18 people, or 25 percent. Maltbie said such an expansion will be considered, but that the funding would have to come from the facility’s existing budget.

kworth@sfexaminer.com

Mistakes were made

An independent investigation into murder suspect Josue Orozco’s Feb. 14 escape from San Mateo County’s Youth Services Center outlined a few of the previously unrevealed facts.

» The facility does not record phone calls and had no phone logs for that night.

» The facility had not been screening letters written to Orozco.

» One of the two on-duty guards was taking an unauthorized lunch break. The other was playing chess with another youth and had his back to Orozco.

» On average, 18 percent of the facility’s on-duty guards are temp workers.

» The youths accused of boosting Orozco up to thelamp also allegedly moved exercise mats to make it appear as though he’d escaped on his own.

» San Mateo Police were alerted of a youth limping through the neighborhood that night, but didn’t tell the Sheriff’s Office until the next day.

Source: National Council on Crime

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