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Category: Armstrong County Court House

Several Recommendations Made Following Crissman Jail Escape

Assistant District Attorney Kathleen Charlton, Chief Detective Paul Rearick and three other detectives recommended 10 ‘immediate’ changes to Armstrong County Jail policies and procedures following inmate Robert Crissman’s July 30 escape.

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.

The 2014 ‘Warden of the Year,’ Former Jail Warden David Hogue’s future remains unclear since his suspension last month. Hogue has been in corrections since April 1983 and warden since January 2006. (KP File Photo)

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.

Superior Court Judges Ready for This Week’s Appearance in Armstrong County

Pennsylvania Superior Court judges will rule on cases at the Armstrong County Courthouse this week. The public is invited to attend.

by Jonathan Weaver

A trio of Pennsylvania Superior Court judges will rule on cases at the Armstrong County Courthouse this week.

Armstrong County Judge James Panchik explained that the Superior Court involves a group of elected judges that hear appeals from Court of Common Pleas dockets from throughout the state.

“The President Judge of the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, Judge (Susan Peikes) Gantman and (Armstrong County President) Judge (Kenneth) Valasek agreed to have the panel of three judges – Judge Mary Jane Bowes, Judge Judith Ference Olsen and Judge Victor P. Stabile – sit here in Kittanning,” Judge Panchik said. “This has been in planning for a year.”

According to the Superior Court calendar updated September 3, judges will hear arguments on nearly 50 cases during the two days – including the criminal appeal of Otilio Cosme, of Ford City (who was sentenced to up to three years in jail on charges of involuntary manslaughter during a St. Patrick’s Day fight in Kittanning in 2013), two cases involving Elderton State Bank and another filed by Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

Judge Panchik said that cases are usually heard in court rooms in Pittsburgh, Harrisburg or Philadelphia, but this week’s court arguments – which begin at 9:30AM each day in Courtroom 1 – are an opportunity for transparency.

Judges Bowes and Olsen both were in the county last year as part of a legal continuing education course for the Armstrong County Bar Association.

“That really spawned the idea to have arguments here,” Judge Panchik said.

Armstrong County Bar Association President Andrew Sacco, a lawyer at Steiner Law Office in Kittanning, said one of the topics the Superior Court judges explained to the nearly-30 lawyers last year was how to properly file those appeals. He also encouraged local residents to sit in on the court cases this week.

“People see stuff on television (or) read about it in the newspaper, but this is an opportunity to actually see it in action live,” Sacco said.

Judge Olsen – a classmate of Judge Panchik’s from Duquesne University School of Law in 1982 – has also appeared at Armstrong County Republican Committee events earlier this year as she hopes to be elected to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

High school students from Armstrong, West-Shamokin, Freeport, Karns City, Leechburg and Divine Redeemer School in Ford City have all been invited to the proceedings.

“We’re very pleased to open up our courthouse to the Superior Court so they can see Armstrong County and see our courtroom,” Judge Panchik continued. “It’s an opportunity to showcase the county to them and it’s an opportunity for our local residents to see how the courts operate.

Judge Panchik is scheduled for to hear trial arguments both days, but hopes to sit on the Superior Court decisions the morning of September 17.

During Judge Panchik’s eight-year tenure, about 10 pages of criminal court cases have been appealed.

Superior Court judges last sat in the Armstrong County Courthouse in 2000.

Judge J. Frank Graff, a Republican judge from Kittanning, served with the Superior Court in 1930. Judge Graff served more than 57 years on the bench before his death at Armstrong County Memorial Hospital in 1981.

Judge Graff was appointed to the Pennsylvania Superior Court by Gov. John Fisher, but was defeated in the Primary Election later that year by Judge James Drew of Allegheny County.

Judge Drew went on to become Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

Hearing cases in local counties is not restricted to Armstrong County. Communications Coordinator of the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts in Harrisburg Art Heinz said Superior Court judges heard arguments in Washington County this past April.