Four inmates, one employee disciplined at close of Bayport prison tunnel investigation
Four inmates and one employee at the Bayport prison have been disciplined following the close of an investigation into a 25-foot, underground tunnel corrections staff found there in February.
It was the first attempt of its kind in the institution's memory, officials said. No inmates escaped.
Inmates David Arthur Spaeth, Craig Michael Friend, Andrew Lechuga Salinas and Gonzalo Hernandez were punished with 540 days of segregated confinement following Minnesota Department of Corrections discipline process in which each pleaded guilty to charges of aiding, advising, counseling, conspiring, attempting, or acting as an accessory to escape at the prison.
Further, the corrections department suspended for five days, without pay, a staff member who was assigned to watch inventory tools. According to information the corrections department released on Friday, the employee -- whose name and title were not released -- failed to notice that an electric hammer drill used in the escape attempt was missing from its storage case.
Despite this oversight, an investigation led by the department's Office of Special Investigations concluded that no prison staff was involved in the attempt.
In addition to the hammer drill, investigators said, improvised tools to dig the tunnel in the basement of one of five industrial buildings at the prison. A corrections officer discovered the tunnel at the base of one of two abandoned cargo-elevator shafts during a Feb. 6 security inspection.
According to investigators, the inmates cut a hole in a door that blocked the shaft, and then concealed the hole with a vent cover. As one inmate stood watch for corrections staff or other inmates, others crawled inside the shaft, using improvised tools, the hammer drill and electric lights in burrowing toward the prison's west perimeter wall.
The inmates disposed of excavated soil in the second elevator shaft. The tunnel, which officials described last winter as reaching within about 60 feet of the wall, was filled in March.
Investigators remain unsure how long the excavation had been underway and said the inmates refused to cooperate in the investigation. However, prior to the tunnel's discovery, they said, at least two of the inmates had been assigned to the industrial building since June, 2007.
About 350 inmates work each day in the industrial buildings, which cover 400,000 square feet and produce furniture upholstery, fabricate metal and assemble products. The buildings have been used to make products since at least the 1930s.
Also assisting in the investigation was the Washington Sheriff's Office, the Washington County Attorney's Office, the St. Paul Police Department, and the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
Joan Fabian, Minnesota Corrections Commissioner, praised the investigators, prison staff and other assisting law enforcement in resolving the case.
"A complete and thorough investigation was necessary to gather the facts and identify those responsible," she said, she said, adding that her department's operations have been reviewed and modified to enhance security responses to increasingly sophisticated attempts by offenders to escape custody."
Spaeth, Friend and Salinas are each serving life sentences for first-degree murder. Hernandez is serving a sentence for second-degree murder with a sentence that expires in 2039.
Officially known as Minnesota Correctional Facility - Stillwater, the prison, built in 1914, is on Stagecoach Trail in Bayport. Known as a "close-custody," level-four facility, it houses 1,460 male offenders and has 65 security staff. The highest security level at Minnesota prisons is level five, the same as at the state prison in Oak Park Heights.
The last escape from the prison was in 1988, when an inmate scaled the walls and traveled a short distance on foot before being caught. In 1982, two inmates were sealed in boxes that were delivered off-site. Although their escape was initially successful, they were eventually recaptured.