On Sunday, January 25, 2021, ADCRR Deputy Director Frank Strada gave the following narrative on the escape of John Charpiot and David Harmon:
Charpiot and Harmon were able to breach the secure fence line utilizing tools they had obtained from the unit toolroom during a recreation period that occurred at some point between 4:30 PM and8:30 PM on Saturday, January 23, 2021.
Charpiot and Harmon were able to access the tools by knocking down a wall-mounted air-conditioning unit and entering the tool room.
Charpiot and Harmon obtained bolt cutters, wire snips, and lineman pliers.
The ADCRR staff did not detect the two men missing until they conducted the standard 8:30 PM count.
However, this narrative, and what is not being said, raises a significant number of questions.
Beginning with standard security protocols in place in every Arizona prison:
- Unit-Level Staffing: Security staff including numerous Correctional Officer II (“CO II”) officers, Sergeants, and at least one Lieutenant would be on shift on a Saturday.
- Complex-Level Staffing: Additional CO II’s, Sergeants, Lieutenants and other ADCRR staff would been shift on a Saturday.
- Extensive Video Surveillance: Security video cameras are arrayed throughout the unit and complex and monitor inmate movements, secure areas, fence lines, and infrastructure.
- Motion Detection: Motion detection devices are utilized in buildings and in high-security areas on perimeters of units.
- Perimeter Surveillance: Constant perimeter surveillance is maintained by correctional officers driving vehicles around the perimeter of the units.
- Natural Material Detection: Sand is used and maintained in a very particular way so that footprints can be detected in areas off limits to inmates at or near perimeters.
- Bright Uniquely Colored Clothing: All ADCRR inmates are mandated to only possess state issued bright orange clothing marked with large black ADC insignia.
- Limited Ingress and Egress: Complexes are designed to limit access and exit points.
- Constant Visual Monitoring: Inmates are under constant visual monitoring from security staff via secured video surveillance and near-field security engagement.
Additional security protocols in place at medium-custody facilities:
- Redundant Layered Perimeter Fencing: Medium-custody facilities require multiple layers of fencing. At a minimum, medium-custody units must have two perimeter fences. The fences are fixed with motion detection alarms.
- Electronically Monitored “No-Man’s Land”: An appx. 10’ wide strip of land between the two perimeter fences that is monitored with video surveillance, motion detection, and has a deep layer of sand raked in a specific manner so as to be able to quickly detect footprints visually. An additional 4’ sand area outside the second perimeter fence.
- Razor Wire: Layers of razor wire are arrayed along the top of the two perimeter fences and on the ground at the outside perimeter fence.
According to ADCRR Department Policy 703 – Security/Facility Inspections:
Staff members inspect all security devices in their areas of responsibility during their shift. Perimeters shall be inspected a minimum of twice per shift and the results noted in the applicable correctional service journals, including any deficiencies, and the action taken to resolve them. Any deficiencies of a serious nature shall be reported to the shift supervisor immediately.
According to ADCRR Department Policy 712 – Tool Control, tools are separated into class A and class B categories based upon their safety and security risk. Class A tools, the category of tools utilized by the escapees, require redundant security and inventory systems, meaning that they are not only locked behind a door, but there are additional locking mechanisms and inventory protocols securing the tools.
In practice, ADCRR secures Class A hand tools like those used by Charpiot and Harmon on a shadow board secured by an extruded metal locking wall-mounted cage. Generally, this shadow board and other large and small tools will be located in an internal area that is itself secured by an extruded metal cage that is locked. Finally, all of this will be located in a secured building often times fitted with motion detection alarms and monitored by camera surveillance.
After the tools were obtained, Charpiot and Harmon had to exit the tool room building, ostensibly through the same space they entered the building, walk to a section of internal fence and breach, then exit the unit and complex without being detected.
This sequence of events means that:
Charpiot and Harmon were able to penetrate a secured building by “Knocking down” a wall-mounted air conditioner. This was, ostensibly, done without being detected by human security personnel, via video surveillance by the officer in the unit control room, and without triggering any motion detectors.
Charpiot and Harmon were either able to defeat the locked extruded metal cages securing the Class A tools or had secured the tools in advance of the escape. The former means the security mechanisms in place were grossly deficient; the latter means that staff failed in securing the tools in accordance with ADCRR D.O. 712.
Charpiot and Harmon were able to exit the secured tool room building, ostensibly through the same space they entered the building, undetected by on-site staff or video surveillance monitoring by the staff person in the unit control room.
Charpiot and Harmon were able to access an internal perimeter fence and use the tools to breach the fence. They were able to do this, ostensibly, without triggering any alarms or being detected on video surveillance.
Charpiot and Harmon were then able to pass through the “No Man’s Land” area without, ostensibly, triggering any alarms that are in place in this area.
Charpiot and Harmon were then able to access a second security fence protected by layers of razor wire, breach the second fence, and exit the unit perimeter.
Charpiot and Harmon were able to successfully avoid detection as they exited the complex. South Unit is situated at the rear of the Florence Complex. There are limited access and exit points to that facility all of which pass several security points. They did this without being detected by the perimeter officer who constantly circles the unit in a vehicle looking for this type of activity. Moreover, they did this without being detected by any of the complex video surveillance or staff.
Charpiot and Harmon were able to successfully navigate through the town of Florence which has a number of state, federal, and local correctional facilities and a population that is largely made up people that either work in or provide services to the many correctional facilities in the area.
According to the narrative provided by Deputy Director Frank Strada, the two men were not detected as missing until the 8:30 PM count. Upon the discovery of the missing men, a search was conducted of the unit. That search revealed that the men had escaped the facility.
This means that from the period of when the men were allowed to go to recreation subsequent to the clearing of the 4:30 PM count and, likely, dinner at the unit dining room, they were able to complete all the above-enumerated steps without being detected by security.
- They were not detected by staff members on shift in the unit.
- They were not detected on video surveillance by the officer assigned to the unit control room.
- They were not detected when by motion detector alarms in the tool room.
- They were not detected when by motion detector alarms inside perimeter fence.
- They were not detected when by motion detector alarms in “No Man’s Land”.
- They were not detected when by motion detector alarms on the outside perimeter fence.
- They were not detected when by the perimeter officer who failed to detect the breach of the perimeter fences nor detect the footprints in the deep sand, both of which are the primary focus of the perimeter officer.
- They were not detected when by motion detector alarms or video surveillance at any of the Florence Complex security areas.
This was a complete and total systemic failure of every security function in the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry.
This systemic failure is another in a long line of serious events that have occurred as a direct result of the lack of transparency and accountability in this $1.3 billion dollar agency. The responsibility rests firmly with Governor Doug Ducey and his appointed Director David Shinn. These failures are theirs, and their’s alone.
Doug Ducey has been on notice since he was first elected governor in 2014 of the systemic failures extant in this massive failing bureaucracy and he has failed to take the necessary actions to remedy this department. Moreover, his appointed director, David Shinn, has implemented a policy of obfuscation and disinformation that has cost lives and decreased public safety.
It is long past time to pass comprehensive legislation to reign in this out of control agency that consumes Arizona Family’s tax dollars and fails to deliver even the most basic of its mandates. We strongly urge all Arizonans to support the ADCRR oversight bills currently being proposed in the Arizona Legislature. It is time to institute a Citizens’ Oversight Committee and Independent Corrections Ombudsman to investigate and report on this dark agency.
Now is the time we must all act.