CINCINNATI — Questions about security measures at the Hamilton County Justice Center continue to swirl after four inmates escaped in the space of three weeks.
Patrick Thomas, 32, was not captured after tunneling through drywall and smashing a window on the third floor of Talbert House, a secure treatment facility on Reading Road.
WCPO also obtained video of two inmates escaping from the Hamilton County Justice Center in June. Security footage shows Melissa Cordell and George Bridewell escaping while incarcerated in the prison.
Sheriff Charmaine McGuffey told the WCPO the jail was having issues “that every jail has”.
“We’re managing 1,200 inmates. That’s our current count today,” McGuffey said. “We take in and release 90 to 80 inmates a day. That’s a ton of movement.”
McGuffey says the move is what led to their escapes. Both were able to blend in with the released inmates awaiting transfer to prison.
No officer was in sight as Melissa Cordell waited to be placed in jail on June 8. The video shows Cordell’s test to see if a half door is unlocked during a phone call. When she realizes this, she seizes her moment and enters the property.
McGuffey said an assistant law enforcement officer should have been seated by the property clerk, saying “she could have taken a break, could have taken papers somewhere, many reasons why she walked away.”
Cordell hides behind a pole and a wall.
“This person here can’t see her,” McGuffey said. “She dives in and takes off the inmate’s outer top, walks out of here in her tank top that she came in with.”
After a clerk returns property to inmates getting out of jail, Cordell removes his inmate outfit and leaves with them.
“She was close enough to them on the way out to retrieve their property that the officer thought she was part of that group,” McGuffey said.
Less than two weeks later, on June 20, Bridewell awaits arraignment in a holding tank. In the same neighborhood, a deputy takes people out of a cell to free them.
“(The MP) has a list with him. He’s calling names, he’s getting these people out,” McGuffey said. “This gentlemen here, he said, ‘Wait a minute, you’re not on the list.’ He tells him to come in, tells this officer to close the door.”
The cell door locks with Bridewell inside, but McGuffey said public defenders are asking to open the cell door to gather information about each inmate’s case. The public defenders are busy as Bridewell comes out of the open cell.
He moved to the area where the inmates were to leave, walking with the group to the property. Finally, he is able to date everyone.
“You’ll notice the officer is looking at (Bridewell),” McGuffey said. “There are so many people coming and going to be released that it’s hard to know who is who.”
Cordell and Bridewell have been captured, but their easy escapes raise questions. McGuffey discussed security issues at the jail on Tuesday, saying they had fixed the way officers monitored entrances and exits, as well as securing open doors for the two inmates.
“We are confident that we are moving forward and fixing things. As far as our attention goes, it’s going to be fixed and we’re paying attention to it,” McGuffey said. “We will make the necessary changes. I’m confident our staff are on alert, understand what happened and are fixing it.
One of the changes includes the complete redesign of the intake area.
“We are modifying this area to create more plexiglass barriers,” McGuffey said. “We are going to build it around the corner. We are going to install a lock, an electronic key lock that no one else can access. We are going to lock the half door that leads to the treatment area. We will make a a number of things to ensure that.
In March, WCPO 9 Team I discovered that inmates were also drilling and burning holes in cell windows using community tablets.
“The tablets contain a lithium battery and some of the prisoners were able to remove that battery,” McGuffey said. “We were told they were tamper proof, which they appeared to be.”
McGuffey said the tablets were introduced last summer for several reasons, including monitored communication for inmates and a way for inmates to manage day-to-day needs such as medical visits and commissioner lists. The tablets were also used to give inmates something to do during the pandemic when there was no access to outside recreation.
“It would be cruel and unusual for incarcerated people not to be able to communicate in some way with outsiders who are family friends, relatives, children, things like that,” McGuffey said.
The sheriff said they did not expect inmates to use the tablets for vandalism.
“We learned that unless you attribute them to a real person and their name actually appears on that tablet, we don’t have much control and we can’t track them either, so we fixed that,” McGuffey said. “When we introduce something like this, that’s exactly what we did. We have been monitoring what is happening and how can we improve and we do this constantly as those incarcerated take the opportunity to find ways to create havoc to damage things we continue to work to ensure that it can’t happen.
Shattered windows force Hamilton County sheriff to close 38 jail cells
Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office makes changes after four inmates escape in three weeks
Sheriff’s deputies search for an escaped inmate from Talbert House