Sheriff Craig Apple slammed staff at his own Albany County jail Monday after an inmate slipped past three unlocked doors on his way to the facility’s booking area, changed into civilian clothes and hid in the property room for over an hour and a half.
“It was a total breakdown on our part,” Apple said of the apparently spontaneous escape attempt, which he described as one of the jail’s biggest security breaches in more than a decade. “He cleared three levels of security. … I’m just enraged.”
One guard has been suspended for the incident, which unfolded at 8:40 a.m. Saturday when Leon Banks was sent to the jail’s medical center suffering powerful side effects of heroin withdrawal, Apple said.
Banks was treated and released, but never returned to his cell. He instead sneaked unnoticed from the doctor’s office to the jail’s booking area. Apple said that alone involved Banks sliding past two doors that were supposed to be locked and a security guard’s post.
When inmates are cleared from the medical facility, they are given a pass — not unlike at a high school, Apple said — and ushered back to their cells. But when Banks left the medical center, the guard who was supposed to check his pass and move him along had stepped into a nearby bathroom, Apple said.
A door leading to the jail’s booking room is in the hallway between the medical center and the cells. That door was propped open slightly, allowing Banks to sneak in and then go past another unlocked door and enter the booking area. With no one in that room at the time, he went into the property room — which was also supposed to be locked, Apple said. There, Banks grabbed clothes from of a bag and changed out of his inmate garb, Apple said.
Once inside the jail’s property room, Apple said, Banks looked around and tried to haphazardly plot out his next step.
Apple said that he does not believe any jail employees acted in concert with Banks to aid his escape.
Though he went undetected through three doors, Banks would still have needed to get through two more locked doors and the jail’s heavily manned main gate before he would have been free.
Apple described the property room as similar to a large laundry, cluttered with bags of clothes and personal belongings that inmates turn over once they enter the jail. Banks reportedly took clothes and a cellphone and hid in the room for 93 minutes before a guard spotted something moving from behind one of the bags; he then spotted Banks’ head and activated an alarm.
“Ninety-three minutes,” Apple said. “The two words you want to hear when you run a correctional facility are control and custody, and this guy was unaccounted for in the property room for over an hour and a half.”
“Thank God he didn’t find a weapon in there and decide to hurt one of our guards,” Apple said. “Do your job and lock the door and this whole sequence of events doesn’t happen.”
Apple said the first door that Banks sneaked past automatically locks and needs to be left ajar in order for someone to slip through. The guard in charge making sure that door was locked, a 25-year veteran correction officer who was not identified, has been suspended. Apple said additional disciplinary actions may come against other staff. The sheriff said the entire incident was captured on video, which is being reviewed by his office and won’t be released until the investigation is completed.
“I’m not just blaming the correction officers,” Apple said. “I’m blaming the supervisors, everyone.”
The last successful escape at the jail was 12 years ago, when 33-year-old William Hodge hid under a jailyard picnic table until after dark and daringly scaled the jail’s 16-foot-tall fence topped with razor wire. Hodge was caught eight days later after he robbed an Albany bank.
Banks had been brought to the jail Friday night after his arrest in Colonie on burglary and grand larceny charges. He has been sent to county jail 10 times in the past eight years, making him very familiar with jail’s layout, Apple said.
Apple said, however, that Banks’ escape attempt did not appear to be meticulously planned, and he doesn’t appear to have faked the heroin withdrawal to give him an opportunity to try to escape. The sheriff said the inmate simply “saw an opportunity and took it.”