A 22-year-old inmate at the Edgartown House of Correction will be arraigned on Thursday on three charges of escape. David Luce, who was captured by local police after he was discovered missing from the jail on Saturday, May 4, has also been charged with possession of counterfeit $10 bills.
It turns out Mr. Luce had come and gone from the jail on several occasions over two months to visit his 17-year-old girlfriend in Oak Bluffs. He had two escape routes in and out of the section of the correctional facility classified as minimum security. He now faces a long list of charges that could keep him in jail for years.
Sheriff Michael McCormack told the Gazette yesterday that the story of Mr. Luce's endeavors last spring was pieced together with the help of the state police, Secret Service and Tisbury police.
Since the Luce escapes, security has been increased at the Edgartown facility and policies changed to prevent a similar event from happening again. One shift commander resigned and no longer is employed at the facility.
Sheriff McCormack said Mr. Luce is known to have left the facility at least four times, on April 11, 13 and 28 and May 3. It is believed he made his last escape through a window in the minimum-security modular unit; he previously had exited through a laundry room window.
The sheriff said Mr. Luce told them that he was actually trying to get back into the jail at the time his disappearance was noticed, at 2:55 a.m. on May 4. There were 25 residents at the jail that night and two people on duty.
When he was noticed missing, an Islandwide manhunt was launched. "We sent deputies to the girlfriend's house," the sheriff said. "She admitted that he was there and that he had left."
Local and state police using search dogs found Mr. Luce 12 hours later in the vicinity of his girlfriend's house.
The investigation into Mr. Luce's activities inside and outside of the jail was led by Sgt. Robert Moore of the Massachusetts State Police's Oak Bluffs barracks. By interviewing Mr. Luce, his girlfriend and others, Sergeant Moore identified the dates of the previous escapes and how they were committed.
Investigations also centered on Mr. Luce's involvement in the creation and circulation of four counterfeit $10 bills, apparently printed using a computer at the jail.
Sergeant Moore said the first counterfeit bill, which showed up at Cumberland Farms on April 26, was passed by an unknown party. The bill was turned over to Tisbury police, who notified the Secret Service.
"On May 4, the two bills found in the cell of David Luce matched the serial number of the same bill that was recovered at Cumberland Farms," he added.
Subsequent investigation, the sergeant said, revealed that an additional bill had been passed at the Airport Mobil on April 24 by a jail inmate on work release who had received it from Mr. Luce. "At the time the inmate didn't know that it was counterfeit," he said. "He had gone to the bathroom and after that bought chewing tobacco. He was able to pass the bill.
"There are some unanswered questions," Sergeant Moore said. "It's possible that this is the same bill that showed up at Cumberland Farms."
It is known that Mr. Luce didn't run the computer that produced the counterfeit bills, but he is being held responsible for possession of the fake bills.
During one of Mr. Luce's escapes, he came back into the jail with a cellular telephone, Sheriff McCormack said. "It is my understanding that on one of his escapes, he came back with a prepaid cell phone with minutes on it. Apparently he sold some of those minutes to those who wanted to make phone calls. The other inmate paid him with the counterfeit money.
"There was an additional bill that was turned over to Tisbury police officer Steve Nichols by an inmate on work release, after he had tried to pass it at the Up-Island Automotive gas station," he added. "The attendant recognized it as a fake and wouldn't take it. The inmate on work release turned around and gave it to the police officer."
The inmate did not know the bill was fake, police said.
The two bills linking Mr. Luce to the counterfeit ones appearing on the street were found shortly after the escape by officer Dan Townes after taking apart a desk in the jail. Mr. Townes also found the screwdriver that was used to open Mr. Luce's escape window, Sheriff McCormack said.
Boston-based Secret Service agents came to the Vineyard on May 20 to initiate an investigation but decided against pursuing it because it was "insignificant," the sheriff said. "They deal with much larger issues. They left the option to prosecute up to the state police. I turned the investigation over to the state police."
"The Secret Service and state police initiated the investigation at the request of the Dukes County Sheriff," said Sergeant Moore. "There were a number of inmates that were interviewed. Charges were taken out against Mr. Luce for possession of counterfeit bills and he was arraigned on June 27. He is facing a maximum of not more than five years in a state prison, or in a jail not more than one year, and not more than a $1,000 fine."
Sheriff McCormack said Mr. Luce faces an additional two-and-a-half years in jail on each additional count of escape, a total of 10 years. "It is a 10-year term, a felony, at the state prison level which could be 40 years," the sheriff said.
Ironically, had Mr. Luce not escaped from the county jail or come into possession of the fake money, he'd be a free man today. He was coming close to the end of his two-and-a-half year term for assault and battery and indecent assault and battery. "He was already approved for parole, and his release was imminent," the sheriff said. "He would have likely been out in three weeks."
Sheriff McCormack said he did not consider Mr. Luce a dangerous man.
Much has changed at the jail since the May weekend escape. Officials have removed a computer hard drive, now being used for evidence, and scanner. It is unfortunate, the sheriff said, because many inmates used the computer in a positive manner; one produced a Latino newsletter.
"It is part of our vocational training program but will remain away until we can come up with a way to monitor its use," the sheriff said. "This being summertime, we just don't have the staff to monitor the computer's use."
In addition, heavy-duty security bars have been installed on all the windows in the minimum-security modular unit. Sheriff McCormack said that in the three previous escapes, Mr. Luce went through the laundry room window. "He would make like he was going down the corridor to go to the bathroom, instead of taking a left, he took a right at the laundry room and went through the laundry room window. When he returned, he would come back in and flush the toilet.
"We have also increased the responsibility of the officers on duty, to do additional bed checks throughout the night," the sheriff said. The standard is now one check per hour, per officer on duty - up to three checks an hour.
"We've made everyone responsible," the sheriff said.
Sheriff McCormack said that Mr. Luce had managed his escape by padding a blanket with clothes and pillows to look like there was someone under the covers.
Officers now use flashlights and, though they do not aim the flashlight at inmates' faces, they must see breathing and actual flesh.
While there have been many escapes over the county jail's 128-year history, the sheriff said, every single escapee has been caught. "Where can they go?" the sheriff said.
"The primary responsibility of all the officers is threefold: care, custody and control. That's what we drum into everyone here. Custody is extremely important when it comes to public safety. Anytime we lose custody of an individual, we have to analyze the facts and circumstances and come up with a solution so that it doesn't happen in the same way again. We've done that by barring the windows, increased bed checks and redefined what a bed check is," the sheriff said.
Sergeant Moore said anyone who suspects having received a counterfeit bill - the paper stock may feel lighter than usual - should call police. "There is a way that police can determine whether it is counterfeit," he said. With color printers and copiers getting more and more sophisticated, their misuse is increasing.