The Department of Public Safety has released some preliminary findings in the ongoing investigation into the June 15 escape of Oahu Community Correctional Center pretrial inmate Daniel Skelton.
Skelton escaped from OCCC after he climbed through a hole in the shower area of Annex 1 to get into the ceiling and onto the building's roof. He then jumped off and escaped through a perimeter gate, which was unlocked. At the time, Skelton was at OCCC awaiting trial for burglary and was classified as medium custody.
"My assessment is this escape should not have happened," Public Safety Director Ted Sakai told reporters at a Friday news conference.
Parts of the investigation are still pending, including possible staff misconduct, but the Department was able to release some preliminary findings into how Skelton escaped.
After jumping down from the roof of Annex 1, Skelton walked around the back of the building and followed the fence line along Kamehameha Highway, which turns into Dilligham Boulevard. The investigation confirms that once Skelton jumped off the roof, he walked around the back of the Annex, through the unlocked gate, along the fence line and out along the edge of the parking lot. He was shielded by parked vehicles, and exited the facility grounds in darkness through the main entrance.
Sakai said last year, Annex 1 was converted into a medium security building because of overcrowding. The building was originally built for inmates on work release.
"Unfortunately, when we did these retrofits in annex 1, we failed to consider that the ceiling and the roof may have been vulnerable," said the DPS director.
Original reports said Skelton was present at two headcounts during the midnight shift. But after further review, it was determined he was last seen at the 10 p.m. headcount and left the facility sometime between 10:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. That means a corrections officer or officers counted Skelton present at the 1:30 a.m. and 3:30 a.m. head counts when he had already been gone for hours.
Sakai says an ongoing investigation could result in the person or persons responsible being disciplined or perhaps fired. He described what corrections officers are required to do during a head count.
"They're required to look at every inmate," he said. "They are required to observe flesh and they are required to observe some movement like breathing, you know if they're sleeping."
Since the escape, policy has been tightened at OCCC so that all gates are secured at all times. The roof of Annex 1 and the ceiling in the shower were reinforced to prevent escape. In addition, razor wire has been added to the perimeter fence and an additional gate was installed to add an extra element of security around the Annex. Lighting around that building and several others was fortified and the facility will be adding more lighting along the fence.
The Department is also looking into ways to upgrade security around the fence line of OCCC and other facilities with motion sensors that are connected to cameras.
"Before the escape, we had already arranged with a consultant to assess the perimeter security of all of our facilities. They surveyed the fence lines at all jail and prison facilities statewide," said Sakai. "Their assessment included sensors and cameras around the entire fence of OCCC. This will cost about $200,000 to purchase and install."
Sakai said DPS lacks the funds to install the motion sensors and cameras right away, but will request the additional money from state lawmakers.
Skelton was captured by Sheriffs on the U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task Force on June 18. The manhunt was a joint effort between Sheriffs and Honolulu Police.
While Sakai said the escape should have been prevented, he noted the poor design of OCCC and the need to build another facility in Hawaii.
"The modules are the only secure parts of OCCC that we have and those are packed to the gills," he said. "No question to me that we need a new facility."