The inmate who escaped from Dade Correctional Institution on Halloween morning was captured Monday evening in Palm Beach County.
Ronald “Psycho” McCoy, an armed robber serving two life sentences, was arrested about 5 p.m. after he was spotted at a gas station in West Palm Beach. He was driving a maroon pickup truck that had been reported stolen Monday morning from a tree farm near the prison.
His capture followed a long and chaotic weekend for officers and inmates at Dade Correctional, where he escaped by hiding in a trash cart. Over the weekend, authorities had said they thought he might be heading to the Tampa area, where he had family.
The prison, just south of Homestead and Florida City, has been plagued for years by security breaches as well as allegations of corruption and inmate abuse.
Its current warden, Les Odom, announced two days before the escape that he was retiring. Appointed by DOC Secretary Michael Crews in July, he is leaving after just three months on the job.
Although McCoy slipped away early Friday morning, police and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement weren’t alerted until late in the afternoon, giving McCoy as much as a nine-hour head start. A news release wasn’t issued until after 6:30 p.m. — and only after the Miami Herald called, having heard about the escape independently.
On Monday, Florida City Mayor Otis T. Wallace demanded answers from the Department of Corrections as to why it took so long to inform local police that a dangerous criminal had escaped.
“The entire community is at risk and law enforcement is not alerted. Kids were getting out of school and my city is the closest to the prison,” Wallace said.
A spokesman with the Teamsters, who represent Florida corrections officers, said the prison has long been staffed, in part, by non-certified, inexperienced officers, many of whom aren’t properly trained. That lack of experience, coupled with a severe staff shortage, has made the facility dangerous, Bill Curtis said.
“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.
Odom replaced former warden Jerry Cummings, who was forced out in the wake of a scandal involving the death of Darren Rainey, a mentally ill inmate who was placed in a scalding shower, allegedly by corrections officers as punishment for defecating in his cell. The prison has had a litany of other problems, ranging from other questionable deaths to filthy conditions in the food preparation area to allegations that mentally ill inmates are deprived of food, taunted and forced to fight each other for the entertainment of guards.
Cummings, 61, claims corruption is widespread at the prison, and that abuses include corrections officers “taxing” inmates to change bunks, staff smuggling in contraband for sale to inmates, and guards forcing prisoners to buy them food in the commissary.
He said the prison has chronic problems with simple tasks, such as conducting inmate headcounts, which must occur several times a day to ensure every prisoner is accounted for.
“It was inevitable,” he said of Friday’s escape.
In addition to corrupt corrections officers, the prison has been plagued by malfunctioning air conditioning in the mental health unit and leaky plumbing, Cummings said.
The Department of Corrections maintains that the prison’s problems are the result of Cummings’ failed leadership.
Mark Young, a fellow inmate, and others at the prison said that McCoy — whose nickname was “Psycho,” although the tattoo on his left bicep misspelled it “Pysco” — should never have been allowed near the prison’s rear gate area, since he was classified as high-risk.
An officer assigned to the rear gate, Sgt. Lashebra Ward, failed to check the cart as several inmates pushed it a few yards and began emptying it into a trash dumpster. Sources said she has been placed on administrative leave.
McCoy climbed out of the refuse, startling the other inmates.
“He just nonchalantly walked through the parking lot into where the car wash guy was washing cars, and said he was kind of lost and asked him for directions,” Young said.
Young was in the vicinity, turning in his boots because his 20-month sentence for grand theft and forgery was ending the following day.
Now an ex-inmate, Young said brutality was rampant at Dade Correctional. He said a week before the escape, he saw a corrections officer unleash an entire canister of chemical spray on a handcuffed inmate, then laugh and brag about it as the inmate squirmed in agony on the floor.
Another time, he said, he watched a guard shoot an entire can of pepper spray into a prisoner’s mouth.
A low-risk inmate who worked as a plumber in the prison, Young said McCoy “was crazy,” and had beaten other inmates.
“He was serving two life sentences and two fortys [40-year sentences],” Young said.
McCoy’s aunt, Sheila McCoy, told the Herald that, to her knowledge, the family was not contacted by authorities, and she was perplexed as to why they were searching in Tampa, when his family is mostly in the Gainesville area.
“Maybe they are trying to throw him off,” said the aunt, who lives in Palatka, a city in Putnam County, about an hour east of Gainesville.
On Monday morning, the owner of a tree farm next to the prison reported his four-door Ford 550 truck stolen, and an alert went out that was eventually picked up by the news media.
A West Palm Beach patrol officer spotted McCoy about 5 p.m. after someone who had seen a news story on the escape called in a tip.
McCoy, 6-3, 200 pounds and still wearing his prison uniform, was arrested without incident.
It’s not the first time the prison has “lost” inmates. In 2005, three prisoners — two of them murderers — scaled the fence after draping carpeting over the razor wire at the top. Once outside, they stole a truck at knife-point from a farmer, but were captured by Florida City police.
When police called the prison, officials didn’t know they were missing.