Up to press time last night, the police had recaptured seven of the 13 prisoners who escaped from the Lusignan Prison pasture early yesterday morning, after digging a tunnel that took them under the fence and into the backlands.
The 13 inmates, who included nine murder accused, were suspected to have fled the compound sometime between 1 am and 2.30 am yesterday during a heavy downpour. They were subsequently identified as Clive Forde, Tishan McKenzie, Winston Long, Kerry Cromwell, Pascal Smith, Odel Roberts, Kendell Skeete, Paul Goriah, Jamal Forde, Jamal Joseph, Jason Howard, Rayon Jones and Shawn Harris.
Forde, Cromwell, Smith, Roberts, Skeete, Howard and Harris are wanted for murder while McKenzie and Long are wanted for armed robbery. Goriah and Forde are wanted for murder/robbery, Joseph is wanted for inflicting grievous bodily harm and Jones for discharging a loaded firearm.
Meanwhile, police said last night that Long and McKenzie were recaptured in Georgetown at the Number 44 minibus park, while Roberts, Forde and Jones were nabbed around 7 pm at Block 8, Mon Repos, East Coast Demerara. Howard and Joseph were caught just around 10 pm in the North Ruimveldt area.
Residents of Mon Repos told Stabroek News that police promptly arrived in the area after they were notified of the men’s presence. The residents explained that the escapees were picked up on a vacant plot of land. Subsequent to the trio being recaptured, the police backed by members of the SWAT team and the Guyana Defence Force were circling the community in pursuit of a fourth suspect. Fearless residents, some armed with cutlasses, also aided the police in their search.
A woman explained that just before the trio was caught, she noticed a man dressed in dark coloured clothing walking along her street and acting in a suspicious manner. “He was wearing a tope, a short pants and a dark shirt and had a haversack. I see he walking and turning back looking at the police vehicle all the time… but by time the police reach on this street [Block 8, Mon Repos access road] he gone,” she said.
Minister of Public Security Khemraj Ramjattan during a press conference held in his ministry’s boardroom yesterday afternoon had confirmed the escape of the 13 “hardcore” prisoners. He had said then that the escapees amounted to 17 including the four – Bartica massacre convict Mark Royden Williams, Stafrei Alexander, Uree Varswyck and Cobena Stephens – who remain on the run following their chilling breakout from the Camp Street jail on July 9, which also saw its demolition by fire. At that time, six inmates had fled the Georgetown Prison. Two of them, Desmond James and Cornelius Thomas called ‘OJ’ have since been apprehended.
Ramjattan said a visit to the holding area yesterday morning revealed that the inmates “burrowed themselves out from that ground digging a hole from inside then… coming up on the outside in the extreme northeastern section.”
He described the situation as unfortunate, noting that on Sunday night there was heavy rainfall. “… I don’t know what happened but we are going to soon know what happened,” he promised.
Acting Director of Prisons Gladwin Samuels said that an investigation was ongoing, but a “ring leader” of the outbreak had not been determined. “If you have any idea of prison psychology you would know that it would be impossible for anybody to operate as a snitch in a general conversation,” Samuels said.
When asked whether there were plans to have any one-on-one interviews with the remaining inmates who were in the area at the time of the escape, Samuels said, “Even a situation like that has to be done based on persons volunteering. Yes, I can conduct interviews but even with that persons are very protective as it relates to officers-in-charge requests, director’s requests or any other requests at this point at this time. Because it is going to be believed that any information forthcoming after those interviews are conducted, somebody will likely be identified as a snitch and in prison language, they will be dealt with accordingly with the prison population and nobody is going to go down that road.”
As it relates to whether yesterday’s escape was a conspiracy, Samuels said he was not speculating about that, but the investigation that will follow will unearth if there was any such situation.
“There are three layers of security. We have prison officers who are within the Lusignan prison they are also supposed to assist the police in the tower situated around the swamped area, the new wooden area and as well as the Lusignan prison,” he explained. The Guyana Defence Force, he added, was providing security on the outer perimeter.
Samuels said that around 16:00 hrs on Sunday, the “lock-down tally” was checked. At that time, he said, there were 99 prisoners in the swamped area, 104 in the new holding area and 136 in the Lusignan Prison. Based on what was reported to him, all the prisoners were accounted for at that time.
However, when a tally was done yesterday morning, it was recognised that in the swamped area there was a difference in the lock-down figure and the new tally. This resulted in a “roll call” being done, he said, in order to check for the inmates who were not accounted for. This process allowed them to identify the 13 that were missing.
“The procedure after persons are checked off and tally is proven in the afternoon is that they would be monitored in terms of persons who are in the towers and persons who are doing ground patrol to ensure that they remain in custody,” Samuels further explained.
Samuels said that during a visit to the area yesterday he had observed where the prisoners more than likely made their exit. He said that despite portable toilets being provided, the prisoners resorted to using an area in the compound where two fences joined. “… Two fences come together… like a V and somewhere there in order to protect themselves from others seeing them when they are using the toilets there were zinc sheets erected,” Samuels explained.
It was in this area, he said, that the inmates dug a tunnel “… somewhere in the vicinity of 5 feet [wide] and it stretched to probably another 5 feet in length… to where they made they exit some 2 feet outside of the fence.”
Because of the rain, he went on to explain, the mud was not as “challenging” and the prisoners, therefore, managed to get below the foundation of the fence.
“Having arrived on the outer part of the fence, while we would have done some clearing, there was some amount of grass which likely could have provided some amount of coverage for them,” he noted.
Asked whether security was present in that area, Samuels said yes. However, he also said, “If this thing did occur during the rainy hours despite we had lighting and so on there could have been a disruption of visibility. But yes, based on the detail, there are persons mandated to be within the vicinity.”
Ramjattan, in a statement issued yesterday morning, said there would be increased security both at Lusignan and Camp Street, more perimeter patrols, surveillance lights and cameras and continued clearing of the surrounding areas.
After an emergency meeting of the National Security Committee yesterday morning, it was disclosed that efforts were being made to transfer the remaining 86 prisoners from the swampy area to the brick prison at Camp Street which had been sufficiently completed to securely hold them.
Samuels had told reporters last week that these inmates would have remained in the swampy conditions and that the area would have been sand-filled to improve the environment.
However, according to a press release from the Department of Information, the 86 inmates were transferred to Camp Street yesterday evening.
Samuels had stated that the transfer would mean there was one less area at Lusignan to secure. “The need for security around the swamp area would be removed because those prisoners are being relocated. However, there is now need for us to secure the new facility that they will be going to and I am quite sure that appropriate security measures will be taken into consideration so as to keep those persons safe within the new brick prison,” he said.
The minister had said during a press conference last Friday that preparing the Camp Street facility could take another few months.
However, he said yesterday, because of the situation the transfer would be fast tracked. “I had wanted an administrative building, an infirmary and couple other things to be built before we have them there but we have to now fast track that because of their behaviour. It is not easy having these real bad guys in that area and we feel that there will be other attempts; we feel a number of other things will be done for them to be motivated towards getting out,” Ramjattan said. “They will now have to get a tented admin building to reinforce the new brick prison…
It is a very tough decision but knowing what has been transpiring, the things that have been going on there, their actions, some of their words that have been speaking very serious messages, we got to lock these people down and we don’t have any other place but the new brick prison. Mazaruni and New Amsterdam are very saturated.”
Meanwhile, the Joint Services’ Operation Clean Sweep has been intensified. Acting Commissioner of Police David Ramnarine said at yesterday’s press conference that confidence-building patrols were ongoing because of citizens’ fears.
These patrols began on July 10, the morning after the Camp Street prison break and were intensified yesterday. “The confidence-building patrols serve two purposes… When they are responding to bits of information you are not going to see them in a particular area,” he said.
The patrols are being carried out particularly in Georgetown, East Bank and a few in Berbice. “We would have had periods before where we would have had these confidence-building patrols, but particularly in this situation, we recognise a greater need for it,” Ramnarine added.
This, he said, does not interfere with the routine patrol arrangements that the divisions carry out.
An arrangement, he said, is also in place to respond to all the “bits of information” across the country which they receive, which will be processed into intelligence, and will be checked out, inclusive of the utilization of the SWAT unit.
The acting commissioner pleaded with the public to “rely on the police, cooperate, be vigilant” and to provide the police with any information about any movements or suspicious activities particularly in areas considered to be backlands where farmers would go to attend to crops. He also urged them to be careful as to what hours they remain in isolated areas, even though there is response capability from a joint services perspective in those general areas.