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Fate of officer responsible for inmate escape: 'coaching'

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Fate of officer responsible for inmate escape: 'coaching'

CREATED Feb 27, 2013 - UPDATED: Feb 28, 2013
Reporter: Kevin Keen
Web Producer: Mekita Rivas
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - You expect criminals serving their time to stay in jail and out of your neighborhood. But last fall, a felon escaped and ran through west side streets. Now, a judge has decided the fate of the recaptured inmate, and a report made public shows what happened to the officer found responsible.
Surveillance video from that October night shows how it happened. One second an officer was walking with an inmate to a van. The next: the inmate took off on foot.
After hours of searching neighborhoods around the Pima County minimum security facility on South Mission Road, deputies found Cesar Lowe, now 21, two-and-a-half miles away. Reports showed at least 30 officers combed the area.
This week, a judge ordered one-and-a-half years of prison time for Lowe for the escape. He was originally set to be released in February 2013, the sheriff's department reported.
“It's huge,” said Pima County Sheriff’s Department Correction Captain Sean Stewart about the escape. “Nobody should be allowed to walk away from jail.”
“We had a very brand new officer from the academy that made some mistakes,” Stewart explained.
Internal investigators detailed those mistakes in a newly released sheriff's department "disciplinary panel review" report. They looked at jail policies, procedures, officers, supervisors, training, security equipment and other aspects.
Those in charge found Corrections Officer Leland Mason responsible.
"Mason did not follow Policy or Procedure when transporting inmate Lowe," a supervisory sergeant wrote. "His action [led] to the escape of inmate Lowe."
What went wrong? According to officials: First, Lowe was neither handcuffed nor shackled -- and should've been. Someone left the gate open. Also, only Mason was present. Two officers should've been.
What's changed since? Stewart said the department will install an automatic gate that closes when not in use, as well more cameras and a signal light system that allows officers inside to know if the gate is open. He also said "key personnel" at that facility have been reassigned to avoid "complacency" on the job.
What happened to Mason? “Coaching" -- re-training on procedures for the recent academy graduate, age 21 with one year of employment at the jail. That's according to Stewart and the report.
“We, the Pima County Sheriff's Department, like to use our disciplinary process as a teaching tool,” Stewart explained.
“Obviously, if something happens again of that nature or similar or any like that -- which I doubt will happen again with him,” he later continued, when asked about the possibility of firing the officer. “But if it does, then we'll elevate our disciplinary process. Termination is always an option, but in this case it wasn't warranted.”
“We don't just want to look at a situation and say, 'Who do we blame here?'” Stewart said. “We want to say, ‘OK, what happened? How do we make sure it doesn't happen again? And, what are the best steps to take?'”
Stewart said the "coaching" and the security changes will do that.
“I can tell you that the Pima County Sheriff's Department as well as the county has taken every step available to us,” Steward said, “and we've corrected any of those loopholes or problem areas that we saw to ensure this doesn't happen again.”
KGUN9 News tried to ask Mason for an interview through the sheriff's department, but he wasn't at work Wednesday afternoon.