Federal manhunt underway for dangerous Rhode Island prison escapee

(Courtesy: WPRI)
(Courtesy: WPRI)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Correctional officers at a federal prison from which an inmate escaped on New Year’s Eve were ordered to work mandatory overtime because of low staffing, with a union official saying some had to work as much as 80 hours per week, a station reported.

Former Army reservist James Morales escaped from the Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls, Rhode Island, on Saturday by climbing a basketball hoop to reach a rooftop, cutting through a fence and climbing through razor wire. Police think Morales stole a car in Attleboro, Massachusetts, which was found Sunday in Framingham, Massachusetts, less than an hour north of the prison.

Morales, 35, was being held on charges that he stole 16 guns from a U.S. Army Reserve Center in Worcester, Massachusetts. He was also facing child rape charges in Massachusetts.

A round-the-clock state and federal manhunt is underway for him. Authorities have said he is dangerous and may be armed.

Jack Parlon, a union official with the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents Wyatt officers, told WPRI-TV that the prison is running at a “bare minimum” for shifts and relies on overtime to operate.

“”You can’t work a guy in that environment 80 hours a week and expect them to perform the way we need them to perform,” Parlon told the station. “It results in bad things happening.”

As of October, Wyatt Detention Facility had just 98 correctional officers, while a full staff was considered to be 140 officers, according to board meeting minutes obtained by WPRI-TV.

Framingham police on Tuesday night sent an automated call to residents telling them he might have been spotted in town and not to approach him. One resident of Framingham told media outlets that Morales had banged on her door on New Year’s Eve but went away.

Morales’ escape, estimated to have been around 6:45 p.m. Saturday, was not discovered for more than three hours, the prison said. Correctional officers alerted law enforcement authorities of the escape at 11:43 p.m., U.S. Marshal Jamie Hainsworth said. He said he would be taking a “hard look” at what happened at the prison. Two officers have been placed on paid leave.

Warden Daniel Martin said in a statement that he is conducting a “top to bottom investigation,” which would include interviews with all officers on duty and all prisoners in the escaped detainee’s cellblock.

The warden said during a September meeting that the staffing problems were due to turnover prompted by low pay and excessive overtime, according to WPRI-TV.