Escapees’ status was reclassified

By Christina Calloway
Senior writer
ccalloway@pntonline.com

Eddy County jail officials classified Senovio Mendoza Jr. as a maximum-security inmate when they transferred him to Roosevelt County’s lockup in March, Portales jail records show.

But Roosevelt officials reclassified Mendoza, making him eligible to work outside the jail, because they believed he had already been sentenced for his unknown crime, Roosevelt jail Administrator David Casanova said on Wednesday. Sentencing is a requirement in the housing agreement between the two counties, Casanova said. He also said Eddy County officials never told Roosevelt officials that Mendoza was awaiting trial for murder.

Mendoza last week attacked a county maintenance worker with a pickaxe, bound his hands and feet with duct tape, stole the employee’s personal vehicle and led law enforcement on a high-speed chase to Texas, according to police. He was captured near Sudan.

Casanova, speaking publicly for the first time since the escape, produced documents from Mendoza’s file in response to a public records inspection request by the Portales News-Tribune. County officials withheld other documents, saying they are part of an active investigation.
Casanova said he couldn’t speak to the criteria used by Eddy County to classify its inmates.

County officials have said it wasn’t until after the escape they learned Mendoza was a murder suspect awaiting trial for the 2012 slaying of an Artesia resident. Casanova also said he did not remember Mendoza’s involvement in a 2012 fight in the Portales jail because Casanova was more involved with the bloodied victim in the altercation.

Casanova said neither he nor county officers could do their job properly because Eddy County officials did not provide Mendoza’s entire criminal background.

Eddy County Interim Warden Mike Ingram has said the proper documentation was provided.
Casanova said the Portales jail staff did not do background checks on incoming inmates, but that’s one shortfall he plans to fix as he revises policies following last week’s incident.

Casanova returned 26 inmates to Eddy County last week in light of Mendoza’s escape. All work detail programs have been suspended as the policy is being revised.

The county employee involved in last week’s attack was not seriously injured, officials said.
The escape was the third in two years at the jail. All six escapees have been recaptured.