‘Armed and Dangerous’ Escaped Inmate Had 5-Hour Head Start on Police

A federal prisoner who escaped from a privately run detention center in Rhode Island over the weekend had a five-hour head start before police were notified of his disappearance.

James Walker Morales escaped the high-security Wyatt Detention Center around on New Year's Eve. By the time local police were notified, nearly five hours had passed since his escape.

According to the Wyatt inmate handbook, nightly prisoner counts happen at 7 and 9:30 p.m. The prison warden said they didn't realize Morales was missing until 10:30 p.m.

As it turns out, on special occasions, after the 7 p.m. count, the prison releases the inmates from their cells for what they call "late nights." A new count happens at 10:20 p.m.

During that 3-1/2-hour gap, Morales could have made his escape.

Only the warden and the chief of security have permission to add that later count.

Investigators say they're looking at all possible scenarios on how Morales may have gotten away so quickly. A quick eight-minute walk from where he dropped off the stolen car on Gordon Street is the MBTA Commuter Rail Framingham stop.

There's the possibility that Morales may have hopped on the train on New Year's Eve night. He wouldn't have had to pay a cent for a ticket. All rides were free that night, courtesy of the T.

A 45-minute stretch in either direction and Morales would have been able to get to Worcester or Boston, putting more miles between him and investigators.

Framingham police say there is no evidence to confirm or deny that Morales used the train at all.

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, the Central Falls Police quickly determined that Morales had already left the area.

By that time, investigators say Morales had stolen a car in Attleboro, Massachusetts, changed its plates in Framingham, and knocked on a resident's front door.

"He was bald, he had hair on his face, he had a black jacket on, he had gray sweats on," Vanessa Lugo said.

Two correctional officers at the detention center have been placed on paid administrative leave in the wake of the escape.

Warden Daniel Martin said in a statement that his internal review will include interviews with all officers on duty and all prisoners in the escaped detainee's cellblock. He said the findings of the investigation will be released when it is complete.

Meanwhile, on the fifth day of the manhunt for Morales, Framingham residents are being warned to be cautious.

State police have increased surveillance in Framingham, and the town's police force issued a robo-call advising that Morales "should be considered armed and dangerous." Selectmen issued a statement warning residents to "remain vigilant" and report anything suspicious to police.

"It's been three days since Mr. Morales was seen in Framingham," Acting Police Chief Steve Trask said in the statement. "At this time the Framingham Police have no reason to believe that the fugitive is still in town; but we also have no proof that he is not."

A cab driver in Framingham said they're also on the lookout for Morales. They have his picture posted in dispatch center.

Morales is believed to have injured himself when he escaped Saturday night, according to the U.S. Marshals Service. Blood was found in various areas of facilities. Authorities say Morales escaped by climbing a basketball hoop to reach a rooftop, cutting through a fence and climbing through razor wire.

Framingham police say no surveillance footage has showed Morales downtown.

Some people in Framingham think Morales is likely in a different area by now.

"I wouldn't be too concerned he is still in the area," said Framingham resident John Aicuri. "I'm pretty sure he's moved on to other places."

Others are understandably worried.

"I went to sleep at 3 o'clock in the morning just thinking about it," said resident Ramon Santos.

Morales is described as 6'1" and 180 pounds with brown eyes and black hair. He has a large eagle tattoo on the left side of his neck and was bald at the time of his escape.

U.S. Marshals have set up a toll-free number, asking people to call 1-800-336-0102 if they have any information. All calls will be confidential. If anyone sees Morales, they are asked to call 911 immediately.

Morales - a former Army reservist - stole six assault rifles and 10 handguns from the Lincoln Stoddard Army Reserve Center in Worcester in 2015. He was arrested in New York days after the theft, and most of the guns were later recovered. He has a long criminal history dating back to 2009, including a child rape charge for allegedly sexually assaulting his friend's young daughter.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Rhode Island said Morales has also been charged with escape from custody of the attorney general as a result of his prison break.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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