The Oregon Department of Corrections acknowledged Monday that neighbors of the Deer Ridge state prison weren't notified for hours about an escaped inmate, because their automated phone-alert system was broken. They promised to get it fixed.
Around 9:30 p.m. on Sunday night, Clinton Orvill Swearingen II, 31, escaped from the Deer Ridge Correctional Institution -- the first convict to do so since it opened on Ashwood Road east of Madras seven years ago
Residents living near the prison are supposed to receive immediate recorded telephone alerts about emergency situations like this, but many did not hear about the escape until almost 10 hours later, when police came knocking on their doors.
"It makes me pretty upset and concerned that they don't do what they promised to do. And on top of that, how can you trust them?" said Jerry Patterson, who lives near, and whose car apparently was stolen by Swearingen overnight.
Patterson's aging 1985 Chevy Blazer was stolen shortly after Swearingen apparently scaled the prison fence, cutting himself in the process. Jefferson County Sheriff Jim Adkins said they believe Swearingen took the SUV, but he did not make it very far. The blue Blazers was found parked in downtown Madras Monday morning.
Deer Ridge prison officials confirmed the breakdown of the notification system.
"When we went to make notification, we realized that the system was not working," said Public Information Officer Marissa Wilson.
"With local law enforcement being here helping us with the situation, we talked with them, and they decided that it would be best for them to go door to door," she added.
"We're deeply sorry for that communication breakdown," Wilson said. "We're working on our current system with that new contractor, looking to update those contacts and phone numbers, to make sure that we can make those appropriate contacts again." Neighbors of the prison expressed their concerns about the communication issues Monday evening as the search continued. "Normally, I'm the only one home during the day, so I would appreciate if they actually got a hold of us," said Molly McKenzie. "It's a little bit alarming, especially having a kid in the house and that kind of stuff." Ronda Pierson, who lives near St. Charles Madras, said she wasn't too worried: "I figured I was safe in my house." "I mean, of course you get nervous," she added. "I was more nervous about my granddaughter at school. My biggest concern was my family, not myself, and the older neighbors."
St Charles Madras hospital was locked down for about three hours in the morning and again for two hours in the afternoon, while three nearby schools boosted their security procedures with a "shelter in place," with a SWAT team and tracking dog joining the search.
Hours after the sheriff said it appeared likely that Swearingen had left the area, a new reported sighting near the hospital prompted the renewed lockdown Monday afternoon that was lifted around 3 p.m.
Around 2 p.m., Jefferson County School District 509-J sent the following update:
"Due to recent activity, law enforcement recommended the Shelter In Place remain in effect at Madras High School, Madras Primary and Buff Intermediate until further notice. After-school activities continued as scheduled. There will be increased law enforcement presence after school and students that walk should be in groups or picked up by parents." The discovery Monday morning of the abandoned SUV near the Madras Bowl, 66 NE A St., brought police from several agencies to the downtown area, and triggered the security procedures at nearby public facilities.
Central Oregon Community College also used its text and e-mail alert system to notify students and staff about the escapee and his description, although it said, "There is no known threat to any COCC campus or students."
Adkins said at mid-morning, "The trail is kind of peterin' out -- a dead end." The Blazer had been left in the downtown area likely several hours before it was found, the sheriff said, so it's not known if he left on foot or got a ride from the scene. "We think he changed clothes -- we're trying to confirm that," Adkins said.
The inmate from Linn County escaped Sunday night, the first convict to flee 774-bed minimum-security facility since it opened in the fall of 2007.
Oregon State Police and sheriff's deputies responded after DRCI staff discovered Swearingen was missing around 10:30 p.m. Sunday. Swearingen was described as a 31-year-old Caucasian male, 5 feet 6 inches tall and 140 pounds, with brown hair and blue eyes. He was most likely wearing blue jeans with the word "inmate" and the DOC logo stenciled on the knee in orange or red shorts, and a blue t-shirt with the word "inmate" and the DOC logo stenciled in orange on the front and back, officials said. Swearingen entered Department of Corrections custody three months ago, on Feb. 4, on one count of first-degree theft, two counts of second-degree burglary and two counts of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle out of Linn County. His earliest release date was scheduled to be Dec. 10, 2017. Anyone with information regarding Swearingen's whereabouts was asked to call Oregon State Police at 1-800-452-7888.
Published accounts indicate Swearingen, a Mill City resident, was arrested last December on charges ranging from burglary and tampering with drug records to assaulting a public safety officer and methamphetamine possession, as well as felon in possession of a restricted weapon. He also had warrants for failing to appear in court on earlier charges, authorities said. A Linn County deputy came across Swearingen, who had several outstanding warrants and tried to arrest him, but the two struggled, according to a police log entry in the the Albany Democrat-Herald.
Swearingen ran and broke into a vacant duplex unit, A Marion County police dog tracked Swearingen and bit him on the leg as he was taken into custody, the newspaper reported.
In a posting to NewsChannel 21's Facebook page, Dotha Raburn Patterson said it was their old SUV that was stolen -- one leaking oil, with a bad transmission and broken gas gauge. "It is very creepy to see his footprints just outside of our yard fence," Patterson wrote. "Glad he took our ratty vehicle."
St. Charles Madras officials decided to put the hospital on lockdown starting at 9 a.m. "in order to protect patients and staf0" as police search for the escapee, a statement said. It was lifted around noon, then reimposed for two hours later in the day. The lockdown meant "patients who were scheduled to receive health care procedures at the facility (Monday) have been called to reschedule their appointments." Visitors were not allowed into the facility while the lockdown was underway. Jefferson County School District 509-J Superintendent Rick Molitor said the schools' "shelter in place" mode was "more of a limited lockdown -- school is operating as normal. They keep the front doors locked and monitor students' activities." That situation was lifted at 12:30 p.m., he added.
It all made for a nerve-wracking if not scary day for some Madras residents. "Five cops and a bloodhound in my backyard right now," Brook Montgomery wrote on NewsChannel 21's Facebook page around 10:20 a.m.
Department of Corrections spokeswoman Liz Craig said Swearingen escaped some time between the afternoon and evening inmate counts, the latter conducted around 10:30 p.m. She confirmed police scanner reports that blood was found on the perimeter fence. Deer Ridge, four miles east of Madras, comprises a 774-bed minimum-security facility and a 1,228-bed medium-security facility. The minimum-security facility provides a range of correctional services and programs, including education, drug and alcohol treatment, cognitive classes, and work opportunities. The medium-security facility has never opened to inmates. This is the first "true escape from DRCI in its seven-year history," Craig confirmed early Monday,
However, an inmate walked away from a work crew doing fuels reduction in the forest near Phil's Trail west of Bend last May and was captured in Beaverton three days later. A car reported missing from Widgi Creek Golf Club was found in the Portland area the day after Jason Michael Donaldson, 36, slipped away from the work site.
And it's the second prison escape from an Oregon minimum-security facility in less than a week. Last Wednesday, convicted sex offender Matthew Medlin, 30, jumped a fence and fled the Columbia River Correctional Institution just days before his scheduled release. He was caught later that day at a fast-food restaurant off I-5, and now faces added charges.
A state corrections spokeswoman said both incidents will be thoroughly reviewed by the agency and OSP, and security protocols will be scrutinized.
Stay tuned to KTVZ.COM for updates, and the very latest on NewsChannel 21 at Sunrise.