Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke blasted officials at United States Penitentiary Atwater on Monday, three days after a 26-year-old inmate managed to escape and was on the run for at least four hours before prison authorities alerted county law enforcement.
“The fact that they waited so long put citizens in this county in jeopardy” Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke told the Merced Sun-Star. “It’s unacceptable and I'm digging up more information as we go.”
Guaymar Cabrera-Hernandez was discovered missing at around 8:30 p.m. on Friday by prison staff. He was found nearly 24 hours later somewhere along Youd Road, a rural stretch of road several miles north of the prison, Warnke said.
Prison officials have been silent on the issues raised by the sheriff. On Saturday, after Cabrera-Hernandez was captured, the prison’s public information officer, Deborah Cassity, told the Sun-Star the prison would release a statement “very shortly” that would “answer all the questions.”
As of Monday evening, no such statement had been sent to the Sun-Star and prison authorities in Atwater did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Cassity on Saturday said authorities were investigating the incident.
Warnke said prison authorities should have some responsibility to make sure people who live in the surrounding area are notified.
“I can only conclude they were trying to catch this guy before anybody got wind of it and without having to report it,” Warnke said. “The minute they had absolute confidence he left the facility they should have notified us.”
The Atwater Police Department was notified Cabrera-Hernandez had escaped at around 11 p.m. Friday, according to Chief Samuel Joseph. The prison has its own policies and procedures that he’s not aware of, Joseph said. The chief said “if they needed us or felt someone was in dire need they would contact us.”
“Their procedures and agency is top notch when it comes to looking for people,” Joseph said. “I think they have enough manpower to do that. I think they would call us when they really needed it.”
He added: “From what I know so far there is no information that he was anywhere near citizens of Atwater. I think if he was they would have notified us earlier.”
Warnke said he received information that after Cabrera-Hernandez escaped, prison workers stopped cars in the area “demanding” to search them. Warnke was questioning the legality of those actions.
“As far as I’m concerned they don’t have authority outside of the facility,” Warnke said. “These folks are correctional officers and not police officers. When they leave the facility they don’t have authority to do law enforcement work at all.”
The FBI, U.S. Marshals Service and local authorities all were involved in the manhunt on Saturday.
“I am truly glad they caught this guy and no citizen was injured,” Warnke said. “Things could have gone completely bad because he could have attempted to steal a vehicle because of his history.”
Cabrera-Hernandez was serving a nearly 10-year sentence from the District of Columbia and Northern District of West Virginia for prisoner escape, unarmed carjacking, assault with intent to commit robbery, destruction of property less than $1,000 and attempted escape.
Fox 5 reported Cabrera-Hernandez allegedly carjacked two women in one week shortly after he was released in 2015 from Montgomery County Detention Center in Maryland. The carjacking took place in Maryland and Washington D.C., according to the report.
Cabrera-Hernandez was recently transferred out of a Washington D.C prison to USP Atwater, Warnke said, and because he had no local ties or time to find a local connection may be “the only reason” he was found.
“If he had a connection or a car we wouldn’t have seen him for a while,” he added.
Warnke also said that when Eric Pree walked walked away from a minimum-security camp at the prison on Jan. 29, prison authorities also failed to notify local authorities quickly in that case. Pree, who was serving a sentence of eight years and five months for conspiracy to commit mail fraud, remains missing.
“I’m hoping this is not a trend,” he said. “I’m working on something for our future and especially for citizens of this county to have some kind of security in place.”
Monica Velez: 209-385-2486