Jail Escapee Used Work Program Tools to Get Away

By: by Ed Pearce and Brent Boynton
By: by Ed Pearce and Brent Boynton

RENO -- Washoe County Sheriff's deputies are still looking for an escaped inmate.

The escapee is 18-year-old Anthony Tyler. He was in a jail industries program, which is outside the main inmate area at the jail complex, but inside the main fence.

A deputy found a hole in the fence Thursday afternoon when Tyler was first discovered to be missing.

Tyler had pleaded guilty to stealing several cars; he was about to be sentenced. He lives in west Reno in the Mayberry area, and deputies tell us his own neighbors were among his first victims. Still, he was not considered a particular threat.

"Any time anyone that is confined to a facility and breaks those rules, they could be considered dangerous to someone," says Washoe County Sheriff Dennis Balaam. "We don't consider this individual armed and dangerous like some of them, and he has no past history of that."

In addition to the big search we saw Thursday, deputies have been checking with Tyler's friends and family. They also say a friend of his who's younger than 18 is missing. That's significant because they know he had help from somebody from the outside. They knew when they found his jail clothes near here that somebody had given him civilian clothes.

Tyler was assigned to an inmate industries work crew when he escaped, and officials say he used tools supplied by the county to cut his way out.

He had access to those tools as part of the industries program in which he was enrolled.

It may surprise some to learn that on any given day, as many as 600 Washoe County jail inmates may be working outside, often under civilian supervision.

They perform a number of tasks. Their work can be routine, like maintaining the grounds around the jail, or it can even crucial. During the flood of 1997, inmate crews helped sand bag local homes. It does help the community.

"They cook, they clean, they do the laundry," Balaam says. "They do a number of things that we'd have to hire someone else to do."

It can also teach a marketable skill. Anthony Tyler was supposed to be learning woodworking at the woodshop. The 80 or so inmates enrolled in the Jails Industries program learn skills as diverse as silk screening, engraving and culinary tasks in the dining hall.

With access to tools that could be used to escape, the woodshop is different. The shop is located on the jail grounds behind two security fences.

Inmates turn out a number of products there which are eventually offered for sale. Look around, and you'll see dog houses and sheds. You'll also see the tools needed to make these products, including sheet metal shears.

A civilian instructor was supervising Tyler and five other inmates yesterday, but with a variety of structures and piles of lumber about and the tools at hand, it's not hard to see how it would be possible for Tyler to slip behind a lumber rack -- which he did, using a pair of shears to cut through one fence, then the other with its concertina razor wire and make his escape.

It was the first escape from the industries program. Sheriff Balaam says procedures will be examined to ensure it doesn't happen again.

"The only thing I would question is whether they were being supervised as they were being given out," Balaam says.

There are specific procedures concerning access to those tools. Depending on what the investigation shows, there may be changes ahead for the industries program, but Balaam says the program will continue.

The sheriff did say his personnel appears to have handled things well.

This is the second recent escape from the jail. The previous one involved an escape from the security area of the jail itself. There were official reprimands following that incident.

This one is different. It was outside the jail building. A civilian instructor was supervising. The investigation will center on the procedures in the woodshop, and whether they were being followed.

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