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Inmate on the run escaped prison by hiding in state truck

Corey Davis escaped the St. Clair Correctional Facility on Jan. 24.
Corey Davis escaped the St. Clair Correctional Facility on Jan. 24.(Source: ADOC)
Updated: Jan. 25, 2019 at 5:40 PM CST
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BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Corey Davis, a state prison inmate that escaped Wednesday from St. Clair Correctional Facility in Springville, left the prison undetected by hiding in a trailer used to transport furniture for Alabama Correctional Industries (ACI). A spokesperson for the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) said Davis concealed himself inside the trailer sometime while he was working at the facility’s furniture plant. The trailer left the prison around 12:30 p.m. Wednesday for the ACI warehouse in Montgomery. Investigators found evidence that confirmed Davis had been inside the trailer and had used an item of furniture to hide himself. The evidence also shows Davis got out of the trailer sometime after it was parked at the ACI facility in Montgomery.

ADOC has identified three inmate suspects who assisted Davis in the escape. The facility remains locked down while the investigation is ongoing.

An experienced officer who works at St. Clair Correctional, who asked that we not use his name, said the truck left the prison after inmates had loaded it. Davis was assigned to a work detail in the ACI section of the prison, where inmates refurbish state furniture. The officer said typically one officer is posted at the truck while inmates load items to be taken back to the ACI warehouse in Montgomery.

“Whether that officer searched everything that went on that truck, I don’t know,” the officer said. “It seems to me there was some complacency somewhere.”

The officer confirmed what other sources have told WBRC, that a security check was conducted at 2 p.m. in which officers counted inmates and no inmates were reported missing. This is known as “clearing the count.” An ADOC spokesperson has not commented on that detail.

According to the officer, the next count was done around 7:45 p.m. but it did not clear. Officers then conducted an unsuccessful recount, followed by a “bed roster,” in which officers go to each individual cell or bed to check inmate names off the list. By 8 p.m. they finally realized Davis was missing.

“It was chaos,” the officer said. “When things like this happen, you really find out what your management is made of, and it was pure chaos.”

Davis, 30, is serving two life sentences for rape, assault and human trafficking. He is a white man who stands 5-feet, 6-inches and weighs 150 pounds. He has strawberry blond hair and blue eyes. ADOC believes Davis is no longer in the Montgomery area and are working with the U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task Force and other law enforcement to bring him back into custody.

ADOC first notified the public and media of the escape at 4:45 a.m. Thursday with a news release that stated Davis left the facility at 10:50 a.m. Wednesday. A subsequent news release stated that Davis was first reported missing during the security check of his cell at 8 p.m. Wednesday and a spokesperson said the escape time of 10:50 a.m. on the original release was incorrect. When asked why the notification of the escape was sent out more than eight hours after Davis was discovered missing, the spokesperson said the report went out after a complete search of the facility, including a sweep of the perimeter.

“The escape report went out after all escape protocols were followed and the escape was confirmed.”

St. Clair County Sheriff Billy Murray said his agency was also notified between 4:30-5 a.m. He said that much lead time for an escaped inmate is not ideal for public safety.

“The sooner I’m notified, the sooner I can supply resources to assist in finding the inmate,” Sheriff Murray said.

Inmates like Davis who work for ACI must leave their prison ID with the ACI officer when they arrive to work, the officer explained. When they are finished with work in the afternoon, the officer returns their IDs, which they take back to their cellblocks. How did the officer working in ACI not notice that Davis was missing when the inmates left work?

“Good question,” the officer who spoke with WBRC said. “It could be human error.”

This is not the first escape from St. Clair Correctional, a prison plagued by ongoing violence and lack of staff. In December 2017, two inmates escaped from the prison by using bolt cutters, a hacksaw and a handgun to cut through a prison sally port fence. One of the inmates told WBRC that prison employees sold him the items used in the escape. ADOC would not confirm that detail, but said the escape was still under investigation. Both inmates were recaptured and are now back in custody.

St. Clair County Correctional Facility. Source: WBRC video
St. Clair County Correctional Facility. Source: WBRC video

The officer said after the 2017 escape, the fence was repaired and bright spotlights were added, but he still feels the sally port is a vulnerable area. He estimates the prison is operating at around 30% of the staff it needs. ADOC no longer includes prison staffing levels in its monthly statistical reports, citing security reasons. The officer said the strongest staffing level at St. Clair he’s seen was 225 officers. Right now, he said they’re operating with about 85 officers.

Recently ADOC moved two new female wardens to St. Clair Correctional. The officer who spoke to WBRC said the new wardens came into a mess.

“They’re in over their heads,” he said. “They’re concerned about what the place looks like when people like Commissioner Dunn come through, but we’re not doing a whole lot to deal with the real issues- the killings, the hangings and the contraband. They’re not focusing on that.”

The officer also said the wardens and other prison leadership had not addressed staff about the escape and general communication at the prison is terrible.

“I haven’t heard anything, everything is hush hush,” he said. “When we come on a shift, a lot of times there might be a stabbing that took place, and we don’t know about it until the inmates tell us. We don’t know what we’re going into.”

ADOC said investigators are working to identify how Davis was able to gain access to the trailer without being observed by prison officials, and why he was not reported missing until a security check at 8 p.m. Wednesday.

“I think it was human error or fatigue,” the officer said. “Morale is already at a low, this doesn’t help at all.”

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