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State looks to return inmates to Daggett jail

It may be gradual as security is improved

UTAH STATE PRISON — The Utah Department of Corrections may eventually return inmates to the Daggett County Jail, if security conditions at the rural Utah facility are drastically improved.

"It will likely be a gradual thing as we get certain conditions met," corrections director Tom Patterson told the Deseret Morning News. "As we check them off the list we will feel comfortable moving them back into the facility."

On Tuesday, corrections officials met with Daggett County leaders to discuss security upgrades at the jail from which convicted killers Danny Gallegos and Juan Diaz-Arevalo escaped on Sept. 23. An investigation conducted by the department since the escape found significant problems, including staffing, procedural and technological issues.

Since then, corrections has pulled all of its inmates from the medium-security jail. No timeline has been set to return them.

"At best we would be returning all but 20," Patterson said. "We feel like 'the Greenhouse' is irreconcilable. We would not be able to, in good conscience, house them there."

The Greenhouse is a building that sits in the jail yard. Patterson said it has been used to house inmates, but no staff is directly on site to monitor the inmates there. To bring inmates from the Greenhouse and into the jail, Patterson said, a door must remain open.

"It's the very same door that Diaz and Gallegos escaped from," he said.

Corrections officials want to require that no inmate be housed in the Greenhouse, because it places the rest of the jail in jeopardy.

The state has a $1.3 million contract with the Daggett County Jail to house inmates. Corrections uses county jails because of a bed-space shortage and funding issues. State lawmakers are set to review the inmate placement policy at an interim committee hearing next week.

Daggett County Sheriff Rick Ellsworth has continually declined to comment on security at the jail, but Patterson said county leaders have committed to make changes.

"I think they have been making some strides to do that," he said. "We want to work with them quickly so we're able to house inmates there safely."

Convicted murderers Danny Gallegos and Juan Diaz-Arevalo were able to slip out the unlocked door and over a razor-wire fence, while a deputy on duty spent the day sick and throwing up in a bathroom. That deputy has since resigned.

Gallegos and Diaz-Arevalo were captured on Sept. 29, after kidnapping a 79-year-old man in a camper trailer, tying him up and stealing his SUV. Bill Johnson, a retired police officer, was able to free himself and get help. The men were spotted in the stolen car in Green River, Wyo. They led police on a chase to Rock Springs, where Gallegos jumped out of the SUV carrying a rifle. He was shot; Diaz-Arevalo dropped a handgun and tried to run on foot. He was captured and has since been returned to the Utah State Prison.

Gallegos is at University Hospital in fair condition. On Tuesday, the Sweetwater County, Wyo., Sheriff's Office returned the officer who shot Gallegos back to duty, saying the shooting was justified.

Cpl. Mike Picerno shot Gallegos with an M-14 rifle as the inmate turned toward him, rifle in hand. The bullet struck Gallegos above his left hip and exited out his abdomen.

"What the outcome could have been otherwise doesn't bear thinking about," Sweetwater County Sheriff Rich Haskell said in a statement. "Two armed, desperate killers loose in darkness in a residential area — had Corporal Picerno and the others not taken the swift, effective action they did, that's exactly what we would have had."


E-mail: bwinslow@desnews.com