Florida police have suspects in escaped inmate probe
Tallahassee, Fla. • At least seven inmates in Florida have used forged documents in attempts to escape from prison, including two killers who were mistakenly freed because of the paperwork, authorities said Tuesday.
Police said they were looking at several suspects in the investigation of the escape of Joseph Jenkins and Charles Walker, but so far they have made no arrests. Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey said the prisoners were not cooperating.
"In law enforcement terms, they've lawyered up," Bailey said. "But we will find the details of what led to these escapes without their help, but should they choose to cooperate, we will have the answers that we need, the answers that we demand sooner rather than later."
Jenkins and Walker were let out of a Panhandle prison on Sept. 27 and Oct. 8, respectively, because of fake paperwork that reduced their life sentences to 15 years, authorities said. It was Jenkins' second time trying to escape with forged papers. He failed in 2011, Bailey said.
Jenkins and Walker were captured Saturday at a Panama City motel. Authorities found an iPad and cellphone there, and they were reviewing them for evidence. Police also want to know how the men got to the motel and who was coming from Atlanta to take them somewhere else.
The convicted murderers arrived at the Orange County Jail on Tuesday and were placed in maximum security in two separate locations. It's the same jail where they registered as felons in the days after they were released from prison. Hours later, they were ordered back into the custody of the Department of Corrections.
Besides the forged documents, forensic examiners were looking at computers and printers seized from the Franklin County prison. So far, there is no indication that any Department of Corrections workers helped the inmates with their escape, but investigators are still looking at any possibilities of an inside job, Bailey said.
"There is no hard evidence that has happened," he said. "If there were, there would be an arrest."
The mistaken release led the Corrections Department to change its policy for early prisoner releases. It also caused the chief judge in the judicial circuit that covers Orange and Osceola counties in metro Orlando to change how orders are filed in the clerks of courts offices. The forged paperwork that led to the release of Jenkins and Walker was filed in the Orange County Clerk of Courts office.
Chief Circuit Judge Belvin Perry signed an order Monday that prohibits judicial orders from being accepted at drop-off boxes. His order also requires judicial assistants to keep a log of all orders to change an inmate's prison sentence.
When the clerk's office gets an order to change a sentence, the clerk must verify with the judge or judicial assistant that the order was issued, according to the new measures.
While investigating the Walker and Jenkins case, authorities discovered two other prisoners at the Franklin County prison that were in the process of obtaining fake release orders.
Bailey said authorities know of three other prisoners who attempted similar escapes. The first was case was the release of Nydeed Nashaddai out of a Pinellas County jail in 2009. He was captured in less than a day, sentenced to 20 years for escape and sent to the Franklin County Prison. Another case involved an inmate at a Gulf County prison.
Earlier this year, Franklin County prisoner Jeffrey Forbes' escape attempt was thwarted by a detective who discovered that his release date had been changed. In emails released Tuesday by the state attorney in Orlando, a Florida Department of Law Enforcement agent described the attempt as a "system failure." In the June email, the agent said he planned to meet with workers in the clerk's office in Orlando.
The agent and representatives from the state attorney's office met with the clerk workers to learn how the office receives documents, said Leesa Bainbridge, a spokeswoman for the Orange County Clerk of Courts.
"There were no follow-up meetings or advisories, except to assure us the investigation had not implicated any clerk employees," Bainbridge said in an email. "In other words, there was no indication that the Forbes case was anything more than an isolated incident."
AP writer Mike Schneider in Orlando contributed to this report.