AG releases report on Michael Elliot’s escape

A map detailing Michael Elliot's escape from the Ionia Correctional Facility on Feb. 2, 2014. (Source: Michigan Attorney General report)

IONIA, Mich. (WOOD) – The Michigan Attorney General’s office has released the findings of an investigation into a prisoner’s escape from the state prison in Ionia.

Attorney General Bill Schuette released the report Monday detailing what human and technical errors occurred at the Ionia Correctional Facility during the February escape of Michael Elliot, who was convicted in 1993 of murdering four people and is serving five life sentences without the possibility of parole.

The six failures, as included in the report:

  • Piramid Microwave alert system failure:
    There was a complete breakdown in the effectiveness of the PIRAMID microwave alert system due to officer inattention and error and a failure to ensure that the entire system was operational and aligned to detect human intrusion.
  • Video surveillance failure:
    There was a significant breakdown in the effectiveness of the ICF video surveillance system due to the inattentiveness of the officer responsible for monitoring the video feed and the failure to follow the staffing policy in the Control Center. The video surveillance system is flawed because of its inability to automatically scroll through the video feed.
  • E-Flex wire alarm system failure:
    The failure to keep the E-Flex wire alarm system, which is contained in an interior fence, operational contributed to Elliot’s escape.
  • Prisoner count procedure failure:
    The formal count procedures were inadequate and staff failed to follow informal count procedures. Both of these factors contributed to Elliot’s escape.
  • Fencing system failure:
    Structural weaknesses in the fencing system were a significant contributing factor in Elliot’s escape.
  • Security system failure and personnel error and inattention:
    To date, all available information indicates that Elliot acted alone in the escape, but was able to capitalize on officer inattention, officer error, and weaknesses in the ICF security system.
Image (1) MICHAEL-ELLIOT-LaPorte-New-Mug.jpg for post 3213
(Michael Elliot)

Schuette’s report also included a dozen recommendations for the Michigan Department of Corrections in light of Elliot’s escape.

The most controversial recommendation was to ask the MDOC to reconsider whether to reinstate armed officers in the prison’s guard towers. Previously, the MDOC said prison wardens didn’t think they were getting enough for the money they were spending to staff the towers.

“From our perspective, there is no downside to manning the guard towers. Of course, having human beings who are out on the perimeter protecting us can only enhance the safety of the community. The thing I don’t know is its effect on the budget,” Ionia Mayor Daniel Balice said Monday. “The community is certainly unnerved by this latest incident. We think that the response by the Department of Corrections was immediate, it was significant and I appreciate that, but I certainly can’t disagree with the Attorney General when he says they should reconsider manning the guard towers.”

Schuette also recommended that armed guards be staffed at the prison’s perimeter on a full-time level, especially in the case that the towers weren’t staffed.

Prison clothing and prisoner purchase policies were also discussed. Schuette said MDOC needs to reevaluate whether to allow prison clothing that could be used to camouflage inmates trying to escape, and a change to what items inmates can buy – like hobby scissors that can be fashioned into an escape tools.

Schuette also discussed training and employee management, recommending a better rotation for officers in charge of monitoring video surveillance to make sure they stay alert. He also said MDOC needs to reexamine how often prisoner counts occur and increasing the amount of supervision for inmates serving life sentences.

Also recommended were modifications to the prison’s security systems, like repairs to slow-down fences and better video monitoring, the report said.

Following the release of the report, the Michigan Corrections Organization, which says armed officers in guard towers have saved lives, released the following statement:

“Today the Michigan Attorney General’s Office released a report of its findings in the Michael Elliot escape from the Ionia Correctional Facility in Ionia, Mich. Feb. 2, 2014.

Many of the AG’s recommendations to prevent another escape echo what MCO has been saying for years: staff the gun towers to deter escapes and prevent the introduction of contraband; restore the full-time perimeter security patrols; and treat inmates serving life sentences as the security threat that they are.

The AG’s report also indicates the escape was the result of system-wide managerial failures.”

The MDOC said Monday it had not yet reviewed Schuette’s report and it hadn’t made any decisions on changing prison policies.

On Feb. 2, Elliot escaped from the Ionia Correctional Facility by using his belt, a pair of craft scissors and his bare hands to rip through two fences.

Following his escape, Elliot was able to make it to the Elkhart, Ind. area by carjacking a woman and forcing her to go with him as he drove across the state line.

When the pair stopped at a gas station, the woman was able to lock herself in in the bathroom and call police.

Elliot took off and was arrested the next day after leading police on a chase while in a different vehicle.

On the web:

Michigan Attorney General’s report on Elliot escape

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