Ex-guard breaks down Elliot escape mistakes

(Feb. 2, 2014)

KENTWOOD, Mich. (WOOD) — A former guard at the Ionia state prison from which Michael Elliot escaped said someone should have seen the convicted murderer pulling apart two chain link fences.

Elliot, a 40-year-old serving five life sentences for four 1993 murders, escaped from the Ionia Correctional Facility on Feb. 2. It was about 24 hours before he was captured in LaPorte County, Ind.

Michael Elliot leaves a courtroom in LaPorte, Ind. (Feb. 4, 2014)
(Michael Elliot leaves a courtroom in LaPorte, Ind. Feb. 4, 2014)

Thursday, the Michigan Department of Corrections released a report detailing Elliot’s escape — and the technology and staff failures that allowed it to succeed.

Inside woodtv.com: More of MDOC’s findings about Elliot’s escape

Aaron Cobb worked for MDOC for 12 years and spent about a quarter of that at the Ionia Correctional Facility, where he was a shift commander. He said what he learned by reviewing MDOC’s report left him feeling “astonishment” and “shock.”

Inside woodtv.com: Read the full report from MDOC (pdf)

“You don’t have to be a corrections expert to see that the system didn’t work like it was supposed to,” Cobb said.

What struck Cobb the hardest was the fact that fence alarms at the sally port had not been reset for almost six hours after going off. That meant they weren’t active when Elliot made his escape by pulling those fences apart.

“Fence checks are a very basic security operation because it is in tandem with staff on the ground walking the perimeter of the facility and the person who works in the control center,” Cobb said.

And, he said, Elliot was visible on security cameras long enough that someone should have seen him spending more than half an hour unraveling the two chain link fences in the sally port.

“That’s what the monitor officer’s job is,” he said.

Cobb said there is a lot to be learned from the report.

“Taxpayers, especially people living in Ionia, need to be asking a whole bunch of questions,” Cobb said. “A) Why did this happen? B) Why did this happen? And most importantly is, how can we prevent it from happening again?”

Cobb said that in his experience, MDOC is good at addressing and correcting issues. He said he thinks it will be a long time before another inmate escapes from the Ionia Correctional Facility.

Elliot remains in a county jail in Indiana, where he is fighting extradition back to Michigan.

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