By Sharna Johnson: Freedom New Mexico
On Aug. 24, 2008 — a year ago Monday — eight of the most violent inmates held at Curry County’s jail escaped in the middle of the night.
The escape both surprised and shocked many in the community, focusing national attention on Clovis and Curry County.
The escape itself was the first of what were to be many surprises about the jail and how it was being run.
In the days, weeks and months that followed while law enforcement scrambled to retrieve inmates and bring them back to custody, a slew of internal investigations began chipping away at the jail.
Through numerous interviews, investigators determined inmates had stolen a key left hanging in the latch of a plumbing shaft while detention officers worked at making repairs.
Inmates used the key to unlock a door joining two cell pods, then returned it before officers noticed it was missing.
Over the course of several days, inmates traveled freely between the pods and, climbing pipes in the plumbing chute, began carving a hole in the roof of the jail.
Raynaldo Jeremy Enriquez, 20, later told officers he did most of the work. Enriquez told officers he fashioned a handmade tool from a piece of metal and cut through the ceiling, then roof.
Through that hole, over the course of a few hours, two accused murderers — Edward Salas and Larry McClendon — and six other violent offenders — Enriquez, Victor Apodaca, Javier Zapata, Victor Sotelo, Louis Chavez and Michael England — slipped out and disappeared into the hot August night.
A Clovis patrol officer discovered the escape just before 10 p.m.
The officer spotted Victor Apodaca running through a residential neighborhood in a T-shirt and jail-issue orange pants. Apodaca was nabbed after a foot chase, but by then most of the escapees had a head start of several hours.
It was later learned inmates had stolen a cell phone from a nurse at the jail before the escape.
Phone records showed it was used to call the family of Edward Salas, who, along with Victor Sotelo, was taken to Texas in the trunk of a family member’s car within an hour of the escape.
Within the first week, four of the inmates were back in custody. By December, all but one had been captured.
A year later, most of those who escaped and a handful of other inmates, friends and family members who assisted them, are serving sentences for their roles.
Salas, now 25, remains at large.
The county hired a private consultant, Durrant, to assess the jail. The final report cited lax and outdated policies and procedures; poor surveillance; training deficiencies and an “abysmal” structural design among factors making the escape possible.
A more than $100,000 camera system was purchased. Dilapidated cell doors were repaired. Trees around the facility that helped obscure escapees were cut down. Metal detectors were installed.
Additionally, policies and procedures were reviewed and updated and efforts were made to improve staff training programs.
County officials have warned it will take time to correct issues.
Problems plagued the jail long before the escape. But with a mistaken release and another escape almost a year after the jail break, questions have again arisen as officials and community members wonder if enough has been done.