By Steve Ramos
Almost a week after five men escaped from U.S. Border Patrol custody at a Dumas convenience store, four of them remain at large. Border Patrol Spokesman Bill Brooks said a team is investigating the incident, but he doesn’t yet have any information about how the men escaped.
Border Patrol officers were transporting 11 men who had been arrested near Guymon to a federal facility in Amarillo. At about 8:20 a.m. May 28, the transport stopped at United Express on South Dumas Avenue, and the men escaped. The men weren’t handcuffed during the transport, a practice that differs from Dumas Police Department and Moore County Sheriff’s Department policy concerning how people in custody are restrained.
“Anytime someone is arrested, he or she is handcuffed,” Dumas Police Chief Jim Nelson said. “And that means every time.”
Moore County Chief Deputy Carmen Napp provided the sheriff department’s policy, which states, “Deputies should place handcuffs, or other restraints as necessary, on prisoners as soon as practical following an arrest. This practice is normally followed even though the prisoner appears to be cooperative.”
Border Patrol policy isn’t as clear-cut. Brooks said it’s their policy to let the transport driver decide if the people in custody should be restrained.
“Normally if the driver of the vehicle doesn’t perceive any overt threat, the people in the van wouldn’t be shackled in any way,” he said.
But it wasn’t only the escape that surprised Nelson.
“We were concerned to say the least when we were told about the escape,” Nelson said. “Number one, we didn’t know the purpose of the transport, but then we weren’t notified of the escape until four hours after it had happened. A lot can happen in a four-hour time period.”
Brooks said people taken into Border Patrol custody are detained until they are processed. If a person’s only violation is entering the country illegally, then it’s an administrative charge and not a criminal one. That can change, though, if the person has been caught entering illegally several times.
Nelson said restraining a person is for his or her safety as well as the officer’s. He referenced an incident in Atlanta in which a woman who had been placed in the back seat of a police car fired two shots at two officers in April. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported the officers returned fire, killing the woman. The AJC report said it wasn’t known if the woman had been handcuffed or how she was in possession of a gun while in custody.
“That incident prompted me to send a memo to my officers,” Nelson said. “We’re responsible for everyone’s safety, and that means we follow procedures when someone is taken into custody.”
The Border Patrol released the identities of three of the escapees, but they don’t know the identity of the fourth man. The three who remain at large are Alonso Bonilla Joaquin, 42, from Mexico; Ernesto Santiago Frausto Carrillo, 22, from Mexico; and Marbin Zelaya Amaya, 22, from Honduras.
Two Dumas police officers and a sheriff’s deputy searched for the escapees but didn’t locate them.