An inmate who fled Dade Correctional Friday remained on the lam on Saturday night, as questions swirled about why police weren’t immediately informed of the escape.
It appears to have taken nearly five hours before state prison officials knew that Ronald McCoy had escaped from Dade Correctional Institution — and five more hours before they alerted authorities that the convicted armed robber was still on the loose.
By then, McCoy — who was serving two life sentences — was likely far away. He may have headed to the Tampa Bay area, where he has family, investigators believe.
It was not clear Saturday why it took so long for prison authorities to call local police and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and initiate a full-blown manhunt.
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By the time police got the call, McCoy’s trail had grown cold, and an orange prison jumpsuit may have looked normal among trick or treaters on Halloween night.
Multiple sources at the prison told the Miami Herald that despite McCoy’s violent history he was allowed into an off-limits area, where he was able to take advantage of broken gates and doors to make his escape, possibly as early as 8:30 a.m. Friday.
It would be almost 1 p.m. before prison officials confirmed he was gone.
The prison notified Miami-Dade police at 5:15 p.m., according to a police spokeswoman. FDLE was told about 30 minutes later, at 5:49 p.m., and nearby Homestead police were alerted about 6 p.m.
“Escape procedures were immediately implemented upon the determination that the inmate was unaccounted for,” said a statement from the Department of Corrections Saturday night.
Corrections and FDLE expanded their search Saturday into other regions of the state.
The department did not issue a news release until after the Herald called at 6:15 p.m. Friday. It was a one-paragraph statement with no photograph or description of McCoy, who is 6-foot-3 and weighs 200 pounds. He also has a tattoo on his left bicep that appears to be a misspelling of “Psycho.’’
McCoy, 39, was convicted of multiple counts of armed robbery with a deadly weapon and had been serving two life terms as well as two 40-year prison sentences.
A spokesman for the union representing corrections officers said head counts have been problematic at the prison for some time. Bill Curtis, business agent for the Teamsters unit, said Dade Correctional staff is inexperienced and short-handed to the point that “ghost rostering” is common. Ghost rostering refers to fabricating work rosters to make it appear areas are fully staffed when they are not.
“The degradation of the department over the past four years has progressed from compromising the safety of inmates to the safety of officers and now to the safety of the public,’’ Curtis said.
Friday’s escape was the latest in a series of problems at the prison compound south of Homestead, which saw its warden fired in July amid reports of persistent management problems. Those problems ranged from filthy conditions in the food preparation area to unexplained deaths that are now under investigation to allegations that mentally ill inmates were deprived of food, taunted and forced to fight each other for the entertainment of guards.
In August, an inmate was strangled to death by another inmate — after he had alerted officers that the man was threatening to kill him. A mentally ill prisoner, Darren Rainey, died two years ago after he was allegedly placed in a scalding hot shower by officers as punishment for defecating in his cell.
Florida Corrections Secretary Michael Crews vowed to restore order to the ailing prison this past summer after an audit underscored serious security and maintenance deficiencies. Despite the management overhaul, problems persist, including sloppy inmate head counts.
It was during one of those counts Friday that prison officials realized McCoy was missing. By about 1 p.m., the staff knew for sure he had escaped.
A prison guard, who said he would be fired if identified by name, said one of the doors to McCoy’s dorm had been broken for about a week, and the gate where he is suspected to have slipped out was also malfunctioning. The officer, and other prison sources, said McCoy was especially menacing and possibly intimidated other inmates into helping him.
McCoy may have slipped out in a trash container, several prison sources said.
On Saturday, the prison remained on lockdown, and a command post had been set up.
Pedro Gonzalez, 74, who lives near the prison, said he learned about the escape around 5:30 p.m. Saturday, when he tried to drive to the store. A Miami-Dade police officer stopped him and searched his car, including his trunk.
Gonzalez said he wasn't worried about his family, and that he, his wife and mother would play dominoes in the backyard until 9. Overhead, a helicopter whirred.
Florida Corrections Department Statement on Search for Escaped Dade Correctional inmate Ronald McCoy
Today [Saturday], the Florida Department of Corrections issued an update on the search for Ronald McCoy.
The Florida Department of Corrections continues to work 24-7 with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) and local law enforcement to apprehend inmate Ronald McCoy. Escape procedures were immediately implemented yesterday at Dade C.I. and multiple K-9 teams arrived there from nearby institutions to assist in the search.
Upon notification on Friday, the Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) sent five inspectors to the institution to interview multiple inmates for information, and the OIG is now deploying additional investigative resources to Miami from around the state to support the investigation by providing information to FDLE and local law enforcement.
Public safety is the Department’s first priority and we are working closely with FDLE and local law enforcement to extend every resource to apprehend this inmate. The Department urges anyone who has information about inmate Ronald McCoy to call 911.