Alarm not working during jailbreak, sheriff says

An alarm system along the perimeter fence of the Mesa County Jail, which is sensitive to motion, was not running or was disabled on the night 42-year-old Shane Johnson escaped from the facility in September 2008, an attorney said during a sentencing hearing Friday.

That’s true, Mesa County Sheriff Stan Hilkey said.

Matt Daymon, an attorney for 32-year-old Rodney Price, aired a series of fresh claims Friday about happenings at the jail shortly before and during Johnson’s escape on Sept. 9, 2008. Price was sentenced Friday to eight years in prison for his role in the event. He pleaded guilty earlier this year to conspiracy to commit escape, but Price denied directly assisting Johnson with tools to do the job.

Hilkey acknowledged the jail’s exterior fence alarm was down that day and had been “regularly faulty.”

” ... Because of ongoing problems, particularly during high winds, the alarm was deactivated,” Hilkey wrote in an e-mail Friday. “Also, it was standard practice that the alarm was turned off during the time the contracted labor lawn mowers mowed the grass inside the fence because they set off the alarm.”

Procedures for arming and disarming the system have since been modified, the sheriff said.

“It’s no longer a concern,” Hilkey said.

Daymon also told District Judge Thomas Deister that jailers had hints Johnson was up to something, roughly a week prior to Johnson’s escape. The attorney said Johnson and another inmate were observed by other inmates climbing onto the ceiling of an exercise yard, using bedsheets that were tied together.

“They’re told to get down after 15 minutes, and he’s (Johnson) allowed to keep the sheets,” Daymon said.

Hilkey acknowledged part of the claim, but said no bedsheets were involved. “Johnson was observed climbing on the basketball backboard and swinging from the ceiling of the exercise yard,” the sheriff wrote in response. “This activity was observed and documented by the pod deputy, and he was warned to get down.” All basketball nets and backboards have since been removed, Hilkey said.

“This is an example of something, taken by itself simply, may look like ‘horsing around,’ but taken with the totality of the circumstances, was an effort (by Johnson) to test if staff would observe and address the behavior,” Hilkey said.

Authorities alleged Price mailed to Johnson a pair of hacksaw blades in a cardboard envelope with a hidden compartment. Johnson later used those blades to cut through a steel mesh roof in an exercise yard after managing to hide and stay behind when other inmates left the yard around 10:30 p.m. on Sept. 9, 2008. Johnson then used bedsheets to slide down the side of the building.

Daymon claimed Johnson approached Price in May 2008 while both men were in the jail, attempting to enlist Price’s help in the escape, but Price didn’t follow through.

“I did have those conversations with Shane, and it wasn’t a good choice,” Price told the judge Friday.

Johnson and Price allegedly are heard in a recorded phone conversation discussing details of the plan, while in another conversation, Price allegedly talks about having “four tires sitting there, at two different spots for Shane,” according to an arrest affidavit.

Johnson and his wife, Marilynne, were arrested by authorities in Mexico in January 2009, in connection with a series of residential burglaries in Baja California, Mexico.

Marilynne Johnson in February was sentenced to six years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit escape.

Hilkey said earlier this week Johnson remains in custody in Mexico with no clear time frame for his extradition to the United States.


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