Commissioners finally release jail escape report

January 30, 2014
OSSIPEE — Though it took several denied requests and the threat of legal action, Carroll County Commissioners have released the jail escape investigation report.

On Dec. 1, 2011, David Hobson, an inmate at Carroll County House of Corrections, scaled the fence and fled from the Ossipee facility, only to be captured on Dec. 6 in Rochester after an extensive manhunt. Hobson was being held at the jail in a pre-trial status, awaiting his court date on burglary charges stemming from burglaries in Wakefield, Sandwich and Effingham. At the time of his escape, Hobson was considered armed, dangerous, and seeking revenge against an ex-girlfriend and her new beau in Maine. After escaping from the recreation yard, Hobson fled into the woods, leaving a bloody shirt behind. He later stole a vehicle in Wakefield and abandoned that in Alfred, Maine. When he was arrested he reportedly had drugs and $3,000 cash. After his arrest he was taken to the hospital for treatment of his injuries and then moved to NH State Prison. Hobson's escape was the first, and so far only, inmate escape from inside the facility since it opened in 2003.

This reporter had requested, on at least three occasions, the escape investigation report that was completed in March 2012. That investigation was conducted by former Hillsborough County Jail Superintendent James O'Mara, Jr. at the request of former Carroll County Sheriff Chris Conley.

Back in September 2013, this reporter asked for a copy of that report. County commissioners held a non-public session Oct. 9, 2013 to discuss the request and decided to deny it. According to the Oct. 9, 2013 non-public meeting minutes, CCHOC Superintendent Jason Johnson was concerned about releasing the report because "there are statements by staff and considerable information about personnel and jail security in the body of the report." According to the meeting minutes, he said he would have had no objection to releasing a summary explaining what changes had been made to address the security issues. Commissioner Asha Kenney said past requests for the report had been denied and there was no need to address the matter again. Consensus of the board supported her opinion and the board of commissioners voted not to release the report.

This reporter tried for a third time, in December 2013 to get a copy of the report. The request was once again denied in brief two sentence letter stating that due to "security reasons" the report was not being released and "The Commissioners would like you to know that any problems that were discovered during the investigation have been corrected."

Ed Comeau of Brookfield, through his attorney, decided to give it a try and see if he could get the commissioners to release the report to him. When his attorney, Seth Hipple, requested the report, he received the same short denial letter this reporter had received. Hipple fired back in a letter to commissioners, arguing that if the commissioners believe the records are exempt from disclosure, they have to cite specific statute or case law that gives them authority to withhold the information.

It appears that with his attorney backing his request Comeau's request carried more weight and at their Jan. 22 meeting, commissioners announced they would be releasing the report and that same day this reporter received an electronic copy via email. Kenney voted against releasing the report. "We've already been over this…we were not going to release it," said Kenney and called it a "violation" for commissioners to release the report. When asked by this reporter what section of the law this release violates, Kenney said she would "have to check it out."

Commissioners were asked what changed that suddenly prompted them to change their mind about releasing the report and Commissioner David Sorensen said they left the decision up to Johnson last time and he recommended it not be released.

Whether it takes legal action or not to get some county documents released in the future remains to be seen but, for now, the 32-page jail investigation report is now a publicly available document.

In his report, O'Mara said he reviewed a long list of documents including staffing reports, jail policies and procedures, conducted staff interviews and toured the property. O'Mara concluded that the escape "was a direct result of a compromise in the design and structure of the outdoor recreation area. The incident was not a result of negligence or inattention to duties and responsibilities of employment on the part of any member of the staff." He also pointed out that, apparently, it was only a matter of time before an inmate would escape. "Given the depth of this examination, I believe an escape, not just this escape, was not a matter of if, but rather, a matter of when."

Inmate and staff names have been erased from the report released by commissioners but details of the days' events leading up to the escape are included.

Hobson was admitted to CCHOC on Oct. 4, 2011, described in the report as "quiet and a loner" that had no cellmate. On the day of the escape, Dec. 1, there were 53 inmates housed at CCHOC and at the time of the escape, 10 staff on duty. Hobson was being held on "prevention watch" because, according to the report, staff had concerns for his safety and that he might harm himself. Hobson asked for his sneakers twice that day but both requests were denied because he was under this special watch status.

At 1:30 p.m., Hobson was observed watching television. At 2 p.m. he was observed in the outdoor recreation area. When an officer checked the recreation area again at 2:15 p.m., Hobson was in the process of scaling the fence. At some point between 1:30 p.m. and 2:15 p.m., according to a staff member report, Hobson had gone to his cell, put on all the clothes he had, and managed to borrow sneakers from another inmate.

Hobson reportedly scaled the fence and used a floodlight as a boost so he would have minimal contact as possible with the razor wire at the top of the fence. He did make contact and was bloodied as he fell to the ground on the outside of the fence, limped away, ran slowly, and even got stuck in "pucker brush" on his way to the wood line where he disappeared into swampland. He managed to elude staff chasing after him and even the County Farm manager yelling at Hobson to "give it up."

One jail lieutenant commented in the report that "things could have been coordinated better, communication at all levels, and our equipment is inadequate."

O'Mara places blame for the escape on the construction of the recreation yard, accusing county decision makers of going with the "least secure" and most likely "least expensive" of the design options and for not supporting Johnson's recommendation to increase staffing levels. His findings recommended county decision makers – the commissioners and county delegation – make improvements to the recreation yard fencing, upgrade the security camera and radio communications equipment, and improve staffing levels.

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