In 5 years, Ore. inmate escape bids fail 18 times

PORTLAND — Investigative documents and an audit show 18 Oregon inmates were caught in the past five years with escape plans elaborate enough to warrant discipline — and state auditors blame staff complacency in two notable cases that happened within a day of each other at an Eastern Oregon prison.

Ten escape attempts date to 2010, the Oregonian reported.

On a Sunday evening in June of that year, inmate Robert L. Emery left a dummy fashioned from clothing and towels on his bunk at the Snake River prison near Ontario, and sneaked into the laundry.

He broke windows, drilled out a door lock, broke into metal tool cages, bashed a hole in the laundry wall, lugged bags of tools, dug under one fence and climbed over another, whose razor wire shredded his arms.

No one noticed.

Emery gave up the escape attempt, though, exhausted, bleeding and huddling under a blanket in the prison yard until he was found.

A day earlier at the prison, Michael J. Norwood put headphones on a dummy fashioned of inmate clothing and placed it in a relaxed pose on his top bunk.

Within 15 minutes, an inmate tipped a corrections officer to the plot, and officers imposing a lockdown caught Norwood in the yard. Among items in his pockets: 35 rolls of dental floss, two razor blades, a piece of plastic rope, photos of his wife, and candy bars.

The State Police said searchers later found an improvised ladder in a garbage can in the yard. The ladder was manufactured from toilet paper tubes and dental floss.

A special team assessed the two escape attempts. Its report, heavily redacted for release to The Oregonian, found the prison “out of compliance with its own procedure and DOC security standards.”

DOC is the Department of Corrections, which hadn’t revealed the escape attempts. The Oregonian reported it was tipped by a corrections worker and filed records requests.

In Emery’s case, two different officers apparently were fooled, and Emery’s absence wasn’t noted for an entire shift, the review team said.

It found problems in the prison laundry, where inmates didn’t line up or show identification. “The inmates just called off their name and cell number, and the officer checked off their information without looking up,” the team said.

Saying other inmates could make use of the information, prison officials wouldn’t explain how Emery could go undetected for so long while being so destructive.

Mark Nooth, Snake River superintendent, said the 3,007 inmates far outnumber his staff of 900 at the medium-security prison, and his management team constantly battles the complacency identified by auditors.

“We have training all the time,” Nooth said. “With that size of workforce, we’re going to have instances where employees maybe are not doing exactly what we’d like them to do.”

Prison officials laced the seven-page report with recommendations, all redacted before release to the newspaper. Nooth said most of them have been adopted.

Norwood, 41, got six months in segregation for the escape attempt. He was serving time for burglary from Eugene. An intake counselor didn’t properly document Norwood’s escape from a Colorado halfway house in 2000, according to prison records.

Emery, 50, also got six months in segregation and later was transferred to the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem. He was convicted in Bend of robbery, kidnapping, assault and attempted rape. He will be 96 when his sentence ends in 2060.

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