by Jonathan Weaver
Armstrong County Assistant District Attorney Kathleen Charlton, Chief Detective Paul Rearick and three other detectives recommend nearly a dozen immediate steps and other long-term suggestions at the Armstrong County Jail following Robert Crissman’s July 30 escape and subsequent killing.
The four officials released a more-than 40 page report Monday detailing the events leading to and occurring the day of Robert Crissman’s escape from the Armstrong County Jail.
Approximately 30 interviews were conducted by detectives, including with Crissman’s cellmates and other inmates, probation officers, former-Deputy Warden Matt Roofner and former-Warden David Hogue. Hogue has been suspended since mid-August during the investigation.
Crissman, known for his substance abuse issues since an initial arrest in 2003, escaped from the Armstrong County Jail about 6:30AM July 30 and is also accused of murdering family friend Tammy Long at her residence less-than a quarter-mile from the Rayburn Township facility.
Crissman – of Templeton – was taken into custody by his probation officer and other probation officers July 23. He admitted to using “a couple” bags of heroin the day before and not working for several weeks, warranting his revocation and hold at the jail before possible transfer to the state Department of Corrections.
Crissman’s probation officer recommended Crissman’s transfer due to it being Crissman’s fourth revocation.
Because of his own admittance, Crissman was not drug tested upon being taken into custody nor at the jail facility upon being processed.
Intake officers noted upon his booking that Crissman “did not show any behaviors indicating escape potential or potential for violence.”
While jailed, Crissman twice applied to be placed on work release – which he had been on during three jail stays in the past for a period of two to four weeks without incident. Warden Hogue allowed this upon the recommendation of the work release coordinator since Crissman was “cooperative.”
Inmates familiar with Crissman also articulated Crissman went through withdrawal upon his lockup and until his escape, but only some of the corrections officers were aware of this, with no documentation in his inmate file.
“There should have been a longer period of time before Crissman was permitted to perform tasks outside of the jail to ensure that he was no longer experiencing symptoms of withdrawal,” the report read. “Crissman was admitted to the trustee program because he had been there in the past and had “never been a problem.” Other important factors such as his recent heroin use, his withdrawal, his extensive criminal history of non-compliance due to his substance abuse issues and the potential for him to receive a state sentence were never considered.”
Crissman’s cellmates were surprised by Crissman’s flee and the following events, stating that Crissman slept a lot, was ‘drug sick’ and vomited several times within the cell and was not in good physical condition.
But, Crissman volunteered for tray duty twice the morning of his escape July 30– which should have been a ‘red flag’ for corrections officers the report said.
“He was not scheduled. This was not unusual to have a new work release inmate volunteer for tray duty,” the report said.
And, only cameras monitored by one Central Control corrections officer recorded the inmates’ path to the kitchen, to the receiving area and to the outside during this time.
More than a minute went by that morning between when Crissman was viewed and when inmates reported he sprinted off.
And yet another minute before a jail lieutenant is seen running out the front door to look for the escapee.
After reviewing policies and procedures, the four officials found no specific policy regarding tray duty – Crissman’s assignment – but that the procedure with work release inmates being only viewed via camera has occurred since 2003.
Due to this incident, the four officials recommended additional corrections officers on duty during the morning 12-8AM shift.
“Another set of eyes in Central Control would have given a stronger chance that Crissman was viewed leaving, and thus a quicker response,” the report indicated.
State Department of Corrections mandate prohibited the officers from pursuing Crissman off the property, but instead instructs Central Control to contact the Pennsylvania State Police barracks and 9-1-1.
Another minute went by before the initial phone call at 6:32AM and an outgoing call to Armstrong 9-1-1 didn’t occur until 6:44AM.
Investigators recommend 9-1-1 dispatchers be the first call in the event of an escape so corrections officers can lock down the facility accordingly.
They also recommend additional training.
“Training appeared to be a concern with at least several of the Corrections Officers interviewed. It was indicated that training should be done more frequently and that drills are rare,” the report stated.
“There have never been any drills that any corrections officers were able to recall with regard to what to do in the event of an escape.”
Preliminary testimony and police reports indicate Crissman arrived at Long’s residence between 6:40 and 6:45AM.
As residents have as well, investigators recommended Prison Board officials consider placing a fence around the jail and a warning system to notify the public.
In fact, investigators learned Armstrong County Jail has a reputation as a place inmates want to be held rather than in other county facilities.
“There was no one particular thing leading up to the events of July 30, 2015, but rather it was a series of missteps. He should not have been granted work release privileges,” the report finalized.
Crissman is scheduled for a criminal case status conference October 23 with District Attorney Scott Andreassi in the Armstrong County Courthouse.