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Undersheriff making changes after two inmates escape jail in Fremont County

Posted at 6:57 PM, May 10, 2023

FREMONT COUNTY, CO — Body camera video released from the Fremont County Sheriff's office shows the moments two inmates were captured Saturday night in Canon City. They were found at an apartment complex one block away from the Fremont County Detention Center where they had escaped just hours earlier.

"An opportunity presented itself and these two inmates took it," said Undersheriff Derek Irvine.

Irvine says the inmates were assigned as trustees working in the jail kitchen when they escaped out a back door as they were taking out the trash. He showed me the room from which they escaped as they were about to be escorted by staff to the dumpsters. The back door had been opened electronically by jail staff to allow them out. He says jail staff were escorting them out with other inmates when the two ran. Irvine says seconds later they jumped a back fence at the detention center and were gone.

Dianne Derby: Aren't they commonly taking trash out?

Undersheriff Irvine: Yes. Yes they are.

Dianne Derby: So, this is an opportunity for anyone to get away if you're telling me that?

Undersheriff Irvine: Yes.

Dianne Derby: How do you change that now because that seems like a mistake that just can't happen?

Undersheriff Irvine: Absolutely. At this point I have an audit going on for the security concerns for our facility. We're looking at the trustee program itself, who is selected, who gets picked, which assignments they get based off their charges.

Irvine says trustees are considered more trusted inmates at the jail.

"We have people who are here for first-time offenses, first-time offenders that just made a stupid mistake outside the facility and got hit with charges and they just come here and want to do their time and get on with their lives," Irvine said.

But Irvine says both inmates never should have been assigned as trustees. He says 25-year-old Rodolfo Varelas was being held on a charge related to bringing contraband into another department of corrections facility. He says 35-year-old Christopher Wallace was being held on a motor vehicle theft case from Fremont County, a Department of Corrections parole hold, a drug case in Douglas County, and theft cases in Arvada.

Dianne Derby: How do you hold the person who approved them accountable for that?

Undersheriff Irvine: That is going to be determined by the internal investigation that is currently ongoing.

Now inmates are no longer allowed to throw away trash. Irvine says the facility will also be adding razor wire to the second fence beyond the main detention center fence.

Dianne Derby: It's surprising to me as someone visiting a jail that there would be any part of this that did not have a barbed wire fence.

Undersheriff Irvine: A lot of your mid-sized and even smaller offices it's a funding issue. Now is it something we overlooked? Possibly.

Tough lessons learned for a department trusted to keep the community safe.

"The public needs to realize our staff are dedicated to them, they're dedicated to this facility, and they're dedicated to the inmates that they're charged with safeguarding." Irvine said.

Both inmates are facing new charges for the escape. They are being held in the Fremont County Detention Center. Undersheriff Irvine says no staff members have been placed on leave because of the escape.

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