MERCED, California (KGPE) – Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke took to the podium on Tuesday to express his disappointment in staff members he says may have enabled six inmates to escape Merced County Jail on January 9.
“This was a mind-numbing kick in the gut,” said Sheriff Warnke. “Make no mistake: the general reason they got out is because we had employees not doing their job. Had they been doing their job – regardless of the condition of that building – they would have not escaped,” Wernke said.
The six inmates cut their way out through a vent in a cell and climbed onto the roof through the air conditioning system.
The U.S. Marshals Service assisted in the hunt to track down the escapees; the final two were captured in Arizona on May 28.
“I was confident that my team – working closely with the Merced County Sheriff’s Office – would ultimately be able to track them and apprehend them,” said Acting U.S. Marshal Lasha Boyden.
The Sheriff’s Office is not allowed to release details about personnel, but Sheriff Warnke says the jail staff members have been dealt with and he’s glad this incident shed light on the department’s internal issues.
“Had we not had the esccape, we wouldn’t have realized what’s been going on with personnel… But they were all dealt with accordingly,” he said.
According to the sheriff, the department is still working on getting approval to build a new jail. He says he hopes they will break ground a year from now.
“It’s moving so slow you almost can’t see it – like grass growing. But, it is moving forward. We’ve got command staff that are attending meetings now every week to make sure this progresses along,” he said.
As for the escapees, their charges and sentencing will be decided by District Attorney’s Office. The Sheriff’s Office says other people will also likely be charged for helping the escapees on the outside.