Santa Clara County sheriff: Lack of staffing didn’t lead to inmates’ escape from Palo Alto court

 

SAN JOSE (KRON) — The search continues for the two accused felons who pulled off a brazen escape from custody on Monday in Palo Alto.

A pair of alleged accomplices have been arrested, and the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office says it has 20 detectives working around the clock on the case.

At the same time, the sheriff’s office is fending off claims by the deputy’s union that the escape is related to a lack of staffing.

The sheriff’s office is saying that the courthouse detail on Monday was more than adequate.

But the union that represents deputies disagrees, saying that reduced staffing has reached dangerous levels.

Roger Winslow, of the Santa Clara County Deputy Sheriff’s Association, says the staffing has been “atrocious.”

Winslow says a lack of staffing is contributing to inmate escapes like the one Monday at the courthouse in Palo Alto.

“We’ve been asked to do more with less for so many years that the new standard is less,” Winslow said.

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In Monday’s escape, accused felons John Bivins and Tramel McClough apparently used a smuggled key to unlock their handcuffs and escape following a court hearing.

This is the third escape from custody since Mar. 2015 when an inmate got away from the lone deputy escorting him to Valley Medical Center in San Jose.

And then last Thanksgiving, two inmates escaped from the main jail by cutting through the bars of a second story window and climbing to the ground on a rope made from bedding.

“Let’s say you have a scenario of five inmates chained together and one deputy guarding them,” Winslow said. “Given the fact that different courthouses have different challenges depending on whether they are old or new. Some require access through public areas. It is the DSA’s belief that you need extra personnel to safely accomplish that movement.”

“On the day of the escape, the normal contingent of deputies on duty was 13 and one sergeant, and they actually had two additional deputies assigned, so they were actually over-staffed that day,” Assistant Sheriff Carl Neusel said.

What’s more is the sheriff’s office says 25 new deputies are now in training. But overall, staffing is down about 20 percent.

The DSA says Monday’s escape shows that there are simply not enough deputies to go around.

“What we’ve been saying to the sheriff’s office is that it is just a matter of time before something bad happens because we just don’t have the staff to safely accomplish what we’ve been asked to do,” Winslow said.

There are political overtones to this debate.

The DSA has not made it official, but when the time comes, it is not expected to endorse Sheriff Laurie Smith, who is running for re-election next year.

Meanwhile, a $25,000 reward has been issued for the capture of the two inmates.

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