Changes sought at Pennsylvania jail after escape, slaying

AP News
|
Posted: Sep 29, 2015 12:53 PM

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Sweeping changes are needed at a county jail after the escape of an inmate who is accused of killing a woman while he was on the run, a district attorney said in a report.

The report, issued Monday by Armstrong County District Attorney Scott Andreassi, stems from 38-year-old Robert Crissman's escape on July 30.

Crissman was granted special privileges as a member of the trusties program and had walked outside to get breakfast trays from a delivery truck before he took off. Crissman had been jailed several days earlier for violating his probation on a drug case and was still exhibiting withdrawal symptoms, the report found.

Because Crissman didn't have a record for violent crimes and got along well with guards, he was allowed to work unsupervised, the report found.

But shortly after his escape, police said, Crissman beat and strangled an acquaintance, 55-year-old Tammy Long, at her home, police said. He has been ordered to stand trial on criminal homicide and other charges.

The jail's warden for 31 years, David Hogue, has been suspended without pay. He could not be reached for comment Tuesday on the report.

Andreassi wants changes to the trusties program and more staffing during the midnight to 8 a.m. shift when Crissman escaped. He also noted that the jail had a reputation for being lax.

"Corrections officers expressed concern that the atmosphere at the jail had become too relaxed and that complacency was a problem," the report said.

Andreassi also found evidence to support "rumors" that the Armstrong County Jail is a place where inmates wanted to go.

"That is not the reputation that the jail should want to have, nor that should be taken lightly," the report said.

Crissman's public defender, Charles Pascal Jr., said he hasn't received the prosecution's evidence in Long's slaying, but he praised Andreassi's report.

"As a criminal defense lawyer, some of the items pointed out in there are long overdue," Pascal said. "And that includes making some effort to get defendants through detox."

John Bechtol, a solicitor who advises the county's jail board, said he expects the jail board to review the recommendations at its next meeting.

Crissman was arrested July 23 after missing two parole appointments. Officers said it appeared Crissman was under the influence of drugs when he was arrested, and he acknowledged using heroin, the report said.

Despite that, Crissman wasn't tested for drugs at the jail or given the recommended three-day detox. Instead, he was placed in a cell, where cellmates and guard said it appeared Crissman was still in withdrawal, the report said.

The DA also found that jail officials erred, among other ways, by letting Crissman wear an unmarked T-shirt under his jail coveralls and by not calling 911 until 15 minutes after they realized Crissman escaped. He was captured July 31 after leading police on a chase and ramming a cruiser, authorities said.

Andreassi wants the jail to make trustees wear neon green jumpsuits stamped "jail" and to always be supervised by guards when they're outside. Long term, Andreassi wants a fence erected around the facility and a system established to warn the community of escapes.