The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Curry County 'very concerned' about jail incident

County manager 'confident' police 'taking future steps' to ensure those arrested are searched

 

February 6, 2018



CLOVIS — Curry County Manager Lance Pyle on Monday issued a news release saying the county is “very concerned” about how a gun was allowed into the county jail last Thursday.

“... We are confident that the Clovis Police Department is looking into the matter, addressing the same and taking future steps to make sure that Clovis Police Department arrestees are searched and secured prior to being brought to the Curry County Detention Center,” Pyle wrote.

Pyle also on Monday said Clovis Police Officer Sanford Wagner was the officer who brought 28-year old Wesley Flores into the detention facility after Flores was arrested for failing to appear in court. Police have declined to name the officer.

After entering through the jail’s sally port and into a pat down vestibule, Flores pulled a gun from his clothes and began a four-hour standoff with police.

Police have declined to answer questions about whether Flores was searched for a weapon following his arrest. Asked if he were blaming police for the incident, Pyle referred to the news release.

Flores shot himself in the jaw at the conclusion of the standoff, officials have said. He suffered “life-threatening injuries,” police said Thursday night, and was “still listed in critical condition” on Monday, according to Curry County Sheriff Wesley Waller.

Pyle in his news release also praised the work of Sheriff’s Department Lt. Michael Brockett and Investigator Glenn Russ for an “outstanding job” of securing the release of Detention Officer Sean Rowland, who was held hostage by Flores for less than 10 minutes.

After Rowland was freed, Flores was isolated in the vestibule area where he pointed the gun at himself during the standoff with police.

“As far as Officer Wagner’s employment status, that is a City of Clovis matter and I would defer any questions regarding to the Clovis City Manager Justin Howalt,” Pyle said in the news release.

A dispatch operator at Clovis Police Department said Wagner was not on duty Monday and Howalt declined to answer questions on Wagner’s employment status, citing personnel matters.

CPD Capt. Roman Romero stated the same regarding Wagner.

The Curry County Sheriff Office is investigating the hostage situation and CPD is investigating how Flores had the gun.

Officials have said there will be new criminal charges for Flores, who was arrested on a bench warrant for failure to appear at a Jan. 29 arraignment on charges including possession of a firearm by a felon, Waller said. Court records Monday still showed no new charges.

Romero said Monday that reports on Flores’ arrest last week were still not public.

Booking procedure

Jail Administrator Mark Gallegos said Monday that the vestibule area and its placement in the multi-stage booking procedure is designed to reduce hazards in a worst-case scenario.

The room is approximately six feet square and eight feet high, just large enough for its function: a pre-booking pat down of an arrestee by a detention officer, typically lasting two to six minutes. It is the second of three phases between an arrestee arriving to the jail and being formally booked into the facility and becoming a detainee.

The first phase is the sally port, a large and spacious kind of garage entered through vertically sliding doors; in the case of last week’s incident, it was a Clovis police cruiser carrying Flores at 2:39 p.m. Thursday through the western-facing sally port doors.

According to procedure, the arresting officer has by then already searched the prospective inmate for weapons, Gallegos said.

On arrival in the sally port, the arresting officer places his or her weapons — firearms or knives — into a metal box outside the vestibule doors. Arrestees also have an opportunity then to surrender any contraband, including weapons and drugs but also cigarettes or lighters, into an “amnesty box,” Gallegos said.

No weapons are allowed inside the jail, where some detention officers carry pepper spray and others have Tazers.

Door 12A separates the sally port from the vestibule and door 12B separates the vestibule from the pre-booking area, where an arrestee still awaits a jail medical exam and the filing of a criminal complaint and arrest warrant before being booked. Both doors are operated by the jail’s master control system or a key and cannot be opened from inside or outside without that clearance. The key entry is only used in an emergency situation if master control is down.

The arresting officer enters the vestibule with the arrestee through door 12A; the detention officer then enters through 12B and the arresting officer leaves through the same, into the pre-booking area where he or she typically works on filing the papers.

That’s how it happened Thursday with Flores, who pulled the handgun from his clothes after Sanford left the room and while Rowland was “getting ready to initiate pat down,” Gallegos said. Another jail officer, monitoring the vestibule through a surveillance camera mounted to the ceiling, saw the disturbance and called for support. The time was about 2:45 p.m., Waller said.

Officers removed Rowland from the vestibule within minutes, faster than Flores could react, said a jail lieutenant.

Later in the standoff Flores disabled the lights and surveillance; the former simply by turning off the switch, which has since been removed from the room, and the latter not by shooting but by otherwise damaging the camera, which has since been replaced, officials said Monday.

Gallegos said Flores did not have on jail handcuffs when he produced the gun, but declined to say if he still had on police handcuffs at the time, citing concern for jeopardizing the ongoing investigation.

Another jail administrator said Thursday’s incident was the first time in 17 years she had known an arrestee to produce a firearm inside of the vestibule. The occasional pocket knife, maybe.

Gallegos said he expected no revision to jail pre-booking procedures following the incident, but for good measure the jail staff would be provided with “familiarization training” to keep everyone on the same page.

 

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