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Read the news of the day in less than 10 minutes — not that we’re counting.
More than a week after the May 7 prison break that left officials scrambling to track the two missing fugitives, both escapees are now in custody, authorities confirmed. While their re-capture brings the search response to an end, Philly officials continue their investigation into the system that allowed it to happen and remain undetected for over a day.
Both men were reportedly being held in the same unit, but not the same cell inside the Philadelphia Industrial Correctional Center in Northeast Philadelphia. It was the system’s first major jailbreak in over a decade.
It took authorities until May 8 to become aware of the escape, embarrassing officials at the critical oversight.
Philly’s prisons face ongoing challenges compounded by the pandemic. These include neglect of incarcerated people to the point that observers sued alleging unconstitutional conditions, and massive correctional worker shortages under a department leader who’s increasingly unpopular among staff.
Ameen Hurst, 18, was apprehended at about 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, May 17, in the Cobbs Creek area near S 61st St and Washington Avenue, Philly Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said in a tweet that thanked local and federal law enforcement for their work.
According to Robert Clark, supervisory deputy for the U.S. Marshal’s Office, Hurst’s family contacted them Tuesday evening and a midnight deadline was set for surrender. However, that and two successive deadlines passed, at which point he said marshals “pressed forward with our investigation. We wanted to end it and we did.”
Nasir Grant, 24, was captured in North Philly four days after the jailbreak, dressed as a woman when he was spotted. According to law enforcement officials, both arrests were described as going off “without incident.”
In addition to the fugitives, a few alleged conspirators have also been charged in connection with the escpae.
Xianni Stalling, 21, is alleged to have helped coordinate the jailbreak. Also charged is Michael Abrams, 21, who is accused of helping secure getaway transportation, and Jose Flores-Huerta, 35 — who is already incarcerated at the same prison on murder charges following a 2021 fight near Pat’s Steaks.
Hurst was in prison on four separate homicide charges from 2020 and 2021, including one that took place on the grounds of Philly’s carceral complex on State Road.
Grant was being held on gun and narcotics charges, which both stem from a March 2019 hit-and-run incident that took place in Central Pennsylvania, just outside Harrisburg.
Here’s what else we know about the escape.
How is the search being handled?
The U.S. Marshals took the lead on the search, offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to capture. The Philly Dept. of Prisons also helped with the search, per Prisons Commissioner Blanche Carney.
Meanwhile, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office was in contact with the families impacted by the homicides the two escapees are said to have committed, as well as the witnesses at their trials, according to DA Larry Krasner.
“The safety of victims and witnesses who may be at risk of intimidation or retaliation is of the highest importance,” Krasner said, adding that the DAO supports “thoroughly investigating the incidents leading up to and immediately following the breach that occurred.”
Law enforcement officials are encouraging residents to stay aware and call the U.S. Marshals Service at 1-800-336-0102 or the PPD tip line at 215-546-TIPS if you know or see anything.
How did Grant end up behind bars?
Prior to the hit and run, Grant was already wanted by the Philadelphia Office of Probation. He had an earlier conviction for the delivery of a controlled substance, which made it illegal for him to have a firearm.
In March 2019, he hit a vehicle in Dauphin County’s Swatara Township, and then led local police onto the state turnpike — putting state police on his heels as well. He fled on foot after arriving in Lebanon, where he was caught and arrested.
Authorities found a stolen handgun and “a large amount of crack cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine pills” on his person.
At a January 2021 hearing, Grant pleaded guilty to three counts of possession with intent to distribute, plus nine other counts like reckless endangerment and receiving stolen property.
What did Hurst do to land in prison?
Hurst has been connected to a 2020 Christmas Eve homicide, two murders in Overbrook the following March, and — one week afterwards — a killing on prison grounds.
It occurred in the middle of the night outside the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, about 47 minutes after 20-year-old Rodney Hargrove was released on bail. Hargrove had just missed the last bus for several hours.
Prison officials have been releasing people in the early morning hours for years now, with the idea being to free someone as soon as a court-ordered release is signed and made official. For Hargrove, it turned deadly. At the bus stop, according to reports, a car approached him and started to pursue as he ran back towards the jail.
It followed him under the raised arm of a security gate, and someone inside the car — authorities say Hurst — fatally shot him. The vehicle then fled the scene.
Just over a month later Hurst was charged in connection to this murder, after already being detained for the three prior murders. Later that year, in September, Hargrove’s family sued the city and corrections officials over their release policy.
Where exactly is the prison Hurst and Grant escaped from?
The Philadelphia Industrial Correctional Center, or PICC, is at 8301 State Rd. in the Holmesburg neighborhood, part of the Northeast Philly complex where the city’s jails and prisons are located.
Other facilities in the complex include:
- Holmesburg Prison
- Riverside Correctional Facility
- Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility
- Detention Center, the complex’s medical unit.
How did they manage to get out?
Grant and Hurst reportedly cut a hole in the fence of a prison yard during a time when prisoners are usually granted yard access.
Prisons Commissioner Carney has said the area was staffed, raising more questions about how they weren’t spotted as they made their escape.
Surveillance footage later confirmed the details, authorities say.
Who are the people charged with helping them escape?
Stalling, from North Philadelphia faces charges that include felony escape, conspiracy and hindering apprehension, according to court records. Her bail was set at $500,000 — an amount the Philly DA’s office is appealing in an effort to raise it to $2 million. She was previously incarcerated at the same prison on an attempted murder charge, but was released in February.
She was recorded on a jail phone line at around 5:15 p.m. Sunday — just hours before the escape — speaking with escapee Hurst and putting him in touch with a man who would pick him up at a designated location near the jail.
That man may have been Abrams, 21, who was an “associate” of the remaining fugitive, 18-year-old Hurst, Deputy Police Commissioner Frank Vanore told the Inquirer. He is expected to face charges including escape, hindering apprehension, and conspiracy
It has not been revealed how the escapees’ fellow prisoner Flores-Huerta, helped the escape plan, but the additional charges of escape and conspiracy adds to his existing legal woes. Flores-Huerta was incarcerated in connection to a fatal 2021 group beating outside Pat’s King of Steaks that claimed the life of 28-year-old Isidro Cortez.
Has anything like this happened before?
On Thanksgiving in 2009, Oscar Alvarado escaped from Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility. He didn’t cut his way out of the facility, instead he literally walked out of the building.
“Alvarado escaped by using an unauthorized visitor’s pass. He was able to get past two security check points and 12 officers before making his way into the visitors room where he put on civilian clothes,” per WHYY.
He was found in a Bucks County motel on December 14, 2009.
When did authorities first realize people were missing?
Despite Hurst and Grant missing three different headcounts — 11 p.m. Sunday, and 3 a.m. and 7 a.m. Monday — prison officials didn’t note the problem until 3 p.m. Monday afternoon.
The prison then went on lockdown to assure nobody else was gone.
The facilities remain on lockdown through Friday, according to the Kenney admin statement, as officials conduct a “thorough review of the perimeter and security points.” The Pa. Dept. of Corrections is also being brought in to conduct a “vulnerability assessment.”
Understaffing is a big problem?
Chronic understaffing of Philly’s prisons has been raised as a potential factor that contributed to conditions allowing for the escape, though leadership at the Dept. of Prisons “categorically” denies the escape had anything to do with a staff shortage.
How bad is it? In June 2021, the city controller held a press conference raising alarms about a shortage of 382 positions. That number has doubled in less than two years.
The department currently has 820 correctional officer vacancies, according to recent budget hearings. That’s roughly a 40% shortage, attributed to a steady decline of workers hastened by a COVID-induced exodus.
Reasons officials have cited include:
- Mass disobedience on the inside of the prison, like a 2021 incident when 90 people broke out of their cells and barricaded themselves inside a housing unit.
- Mandatory overtime meant to handle the shortages, leading to shifts up to 20 hours long.
- The general stress, fear, and health concerns that come with the job.
What else is going on in the prison system?
For several years, the union for correctional officers, Local 159 of District Council 33, has stressed a lack of faith in Commissioner Carney.
Last week, members held a unanimous “no confidence” vote in Carney, according to Local 159 President David Robinson, who also called on Mayor Kenney to immediately remove her.
“The union has diligently tried to work with the commissioner to implement necessary reforms, but she refuses to meet with us,” Robinson said in a press release. “At the end of the day, Commissioner Carney continues to violate labor rights, and human rights — without any accountability.”
The press release claims Carney has refused to attend or schedule labor-management meetings, and alleges that Philly’s Office of Labor Relations has “pleaded” with her to participate.
Conditions inside the prisons have worsened under Carney’s tenure, according to reporting by The Inquirer, which documented gravely unsanitary facilities, monthslong lockdowns, a spate of homicides and suicides, and no recourse for abusive staff.
Last year the city settled in a class-action lawsuit alleging unconstitutional conditions of incarceration, with terms including the appointment of an independent monitor for the prisons and new bonuses for workers.
What did the court-appointed monitor find?
The monitor is Cathleen Beltz, assistant inspector general for Los Angeles County. She described the poor conditions in Philly’s jails as ongoing in her second quarterly report.
Beltz noted partial compliance with almost all of the targeted improvements laid out in the settlement agreement. But when it comes to resuming standard “out-of-cell time, programming, visits, and other services,” she rated PDP as non-compliant.
“Thus far, the city’s actions are not responsive to the enormity of PDP’s staffing crisis and fail to acknowledge the duty imposed on defendants by this court to improve working conditions for more than 1,600 employees and reduce the suffering of more than 4,200 people confined in PDP facilities,” wrote Beltz.
“The physical plant issues at PICC and occupied units at DC remained unresolved in this reporting period. Emergency and routine maintenance are not occurring, and the older jail facilities are not being deep cleaned with sufficient frequency,” she noted.
The next report is due in September.
Updated May 17