PORTLAND — A Biddeford man escaped from his maximum-security cell in the Cumberland County Jail during the weekend and crawled to a female inmate’s cell, where the two had sex, Sheriff Kevin Joyce said Monday.
An hour after Arien L’Italien, 23, snuck out of his cell, a corrections officer saw him sliding along a second-floor landing, trying to sneak back from Karla Wilson’s cell to his own.
Jail officials are doing an internal review to determine how the incident occurred, Joyce said during a press conference Monday.
“It appears that the physical location and environmental design of the corrections officers’ station, as well as some lack of attention to detail by the corrections officers on duty, played a major role in the security breach,” he said.
A review of security tapes showed that L’Italien sneaked out of his cell at 11:50 p.m. Friday.
He was caught trying to return at 12:50 a.m. Saturday, Joyce said.
He said the episode raised serious safety and security concerns.
Inmates in maximum security typically are dangerous or difficult to manage, or need to be segregated from other inmates.
“Somebody could have seriously gotten hurt with this guy out — one of our employees,” Joyce said.
L’Italien is being held on federal charges of attempted murder of a federal officer and possession of a firearm by a felon.
He was arrested in Portland in January after a shootout with deputy U.S. marshals, in which he was shot.
The U.S. Marshals’ Violent Offender Task Force was searching for L’Italien that night in connection with a New Year’s Day stabbing in Biddeford.
Wilson, 25, of Portland is being held on charges of gross sexual assault and aggravated assault. She allegedly helped a man rape a woman in an apartment on Park Street last summer.
L’Italien and Wilson knew each other through friends, officials said, but had not been involved with each other outside the jail.
The pair arranged the tryst by somehow communicating through the jail’s ventilation system, Joyce said, but the arrangement must have involved other inmates because the two would not have been able to communicate directly through the vents.
Male and female inmates typically do not mingle when they’re allowed out of their cells.
Cameras showed L’Italien making his way across the floor, Joyce said, but they are just two of the 100 security cameras in the jail, and not all of the cameras can be monitored constantly by officers.
Jail officials found it was not L’Italien’s first attempted rendezvous.
Security video showed that he snuck out of his cell two days earlier, but couldn’t get into Wilson’s cell and had to retreat.
The episode pointed out several issues for the jail, Joyce said.
Foremost is the way the two inmates tampered with the locks on their doors.
They used pieces of plastic, like the kind issued with deodorant, to keep their doors from closing securely, said Chief Deputy Naldo Gagnon.
The maximum-security pod was full with 24 inmates — 21 men and three women, Joyce said. L’Italien’s bank of cells was on the second floor, separated from the women’s cell block by a small landing.
Two corrections officers man a watch station, but its position — on the ground floor in the center of the pod — didn’t give a clear view of the second-floor landing between the cell blocks.
One of the officers happened to glance up and see L’Italien’s leg as he crawled along the floor.
The station has been moved to provide a better view of that area, Joyce said.
There is little concern that L’Italien might have escaped. There are several doors between the unit and the outside, and they can be opened only by officers in the master control room of the jail.
In the maximum-security pod, inmates are allowed out of their cells just four hours a day.
Each bank of cells opens onto a day room, which is separated from the landings and stairwells by another locked door.
Most of the time, there are four locked doors between a person in one cellblock and someone elsewhere in the pod.
However, the staff at the 18-year-old jail had left the day room doors ajar at night because the locking mechanism, opening and shutting, is very loud.
Joyce said he has changed that policy so that the day room doors are locked, and get unlocked each 15 minutes when corrections officers make their rounds to check on inmates.
Joyce said L’Italien also took advantage of the officers’ routine of visually inspecting cells every 15 minutes.
That gave him time to sneak from his cell to Wilson’s before an officer returned — after stuffing his bunk so it would appear he was there.
Joyce said officers will be instructed now to break up their routines.
Each cell room is illuminated at night by a sort of night light. L’Italien hid in Wilson’s room by climbing under her bed when they heard an officer coming upstairs, and letting her sheet drape off the mattress, Gagnon said.
L’Italien has been moved to the “supermax” section of the jail, away from all other inmates. Wilson is now segregated in the jail’s intake unit.
Joyce said they’re unlikely to face new criminal charges, because the incident does not appear to meet the definition of escape.
Both are pre-trial detainees who have not been convicted or sentenced.
Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: [email protected]