A deeper look into how an inmate managed to bypass shackles and armed officers

Brooke Taylor Image
Tuesday, June 14, 2022
A deeper look into how an inmate managed to escape from armed officers
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As part of new security measures in place, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice will now require three officers on transport buses.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- As prison officials announce new security measures when transporting inmates, many questions remain about how a convicted murderer could escape his shackles and overpower two officers with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

SEE ALSO: Senator pushes for change when transporting violent criminals following deadly inmate escape

Inmate Gonzalez Lopez, who was later killed in a shootout with police, is accused of killing five members of an innocent family in their home in Centerville after he was able to bypass security measures while being transported to a medical appointment on May 12.

The TDCJ has refused to do a camera interview but has provided ABC13 with pictures inside a transport bus and cage, similar to the one Lopez managed to break free from.

Lopez was able to get out of both hand and leg restraints because they believe he either had a key or fashioned something to act as a key, according to a spokesperson with the TDCJ.

"On the handcuffs, there is a secondary locking device on there. That is supposed to cover those handcuff holes, where they can't be manipulated. If that was on there, he had to manipulate a box with a lock on it, and the handcuff keys in order to get out of the handcuffs," a former TDCJ correction officer told ABC13, who chose to stay anonymous in fear of backlash.

His restraints were not the only obstacle Lopez faced, as he was also placed in a caged area meant for high-risk inmates. According to a spokesperson for the TDCJ, Lopez cut through the bottom of the door of the cage with an unknown sharp object. After sliding through the opening that he cut open, the spokesperson said he attacked the driver with the same sharp object, stabbing the driver in the chest and left hand.

SEE ALSO: 'Back to the drawing board': TX escapee's fingerprints found at home near killed family, sources say

"Part of that cage is behind the driver of that bus," the former correctional officer said. "You would think the driver would have heard him, but as I said those buses are very loud. They rattle and you have to think you have a busload of convicted criminals, who aren't just sitting there on their hands like it's Sunday school. They are being loud. It's not a quiet environment."

TDCJ said other inmates created a distraction while Lopez cut through the cage. It's unclear how Lopez was able to get ahold of weapons or keys as officials say he was strip-searched twice and claim to have it on video.

The driver was armed with a handgun, which Lopez tried to grab. The driver stopped the bus, and at some point, both Lopez and the driver fell out of the bus and continued to fight, according to the spokesperson.

A second officer seated in the rear of the bus, armed with a shotgun and a pistol, went out the emergency back door to try and stop the assault. At the same time, the spokesperson said Lopez got back on and took control of the bus, while the rear officer handed the driver a shotgun, and the rear officer used his handgun to fire at Lopez. The driver shot the back of the tire, and Lopez still managed to run off from both armed officers successfully.

As part of new security measures in place, the TDCJ will now require three officers on transport buses. The former correctional officer said that was the policy when he worked there and believes the escape would have been prevented if a third officer had been on board.

New measures include, but are not limited to:

  • Three officers will be required on transport buses
  • Enhanced search procedures of an inmate before boarding a transport vehicle
  • New video surveillance equipment will be installed on transport vehicles
  • Inmates determined to be the highest risk will be transported by themselves
  • Unit medical capabilities will be enhanced to reduce the need for offsite transport
  • An independent security review will be conducted by an outside party

"In the past, there is supposed to be three officers on the bus," he said. "The second in the front is supposed to be secured over the inmates so the driver can drive. He can't drive and maintain security at the same time."

The staffing shortages, which may have caused the cutback to two officers including the driver, are apparent.

According to the TDCJ, there are 23,561 authorized full-time positions within the agency. As of April 30, 15,948 full-time Correctional Officers are working for TDCJ with 7,613 vacancies, which means they are operating at 67.69% capacity of where we should be.

"Now we are at a point where these facilities can't even function properly and safely because they are too short on staff," the former correctional officer said. "Now they want to fix it all of a sudden, but it's going to take a lot of time and a lot of training. The pay is not well, and the condition is terrible."

Texas Rangers are the lead investigative agency, and there is no criminal investigation into either officer.

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