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State lawmakers want investigation into inmate's escape

IONIA, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - State lawmakers want to know how a convicted killer was able to escape from prison, and what can be done to prevent it from happening again.

Michael Elliot walked out of the Ionia Prison about a week and a half ago.

Dan Heyns, the Director of the Department of Corrections, took questions from State Senators about what happened on the night of February 2.

Heyns' message was clear--he says budget cuts are not to blame for the breach; instead he says policies and procedures were not followed as they should have been.

But when it came to giving specifics, he didn't have much to say.

"I think we've identified those issues and we've either corrected them or we're in the process of correcting them," Heyns said.

While budget cuts have been blamed for the breach, Heyns says the night Elliot escaped the Ionia Prison had appropriate levels of staffing and equipment.

"There should have been multiple systems that caught him long before he got to that fence," he said.

Heyns says the blame falls on employees, and two have already been suspended.

"If people don't do their jobs, if they don't follow the procedure, then it doesn't do you any good," Heyns said.

But many Democrats aren't so sure the budget is not to blame.

"It does seem curious that when there's a $15.6 million cut to perimeter security and prison guards are saying that that may have been one of the reasons that this prisoner was allowed to escape," said State Rep. Brandon Dillon.

House Democrats say the only way to get to the bottom of what really happened is to get the investigation out of the hands of elected officials.

"We don't think that the republicans or the legislature or the dept should be investigating themselves," Dillon said.

The Department of Corrections says its internal investigation is nearly complete, but it won't release any of the specifics until the state attorney general finishes his report.

"Until we see the report, I don't think we can make a direct understanding of what worked and what didn't work," Heyns said.

The Department of Corrections does say that it's clear Elliot exploited multiple weak points in security, and now they just have to figure out how to make sure that doesn't happen again.

Heyns detailed a list of things he's already put in place to try to prevent this from happening again.

That list includes things like expediting many planned security upgrades, along with reviewing the colors of prison uniforms and snow removal procedures.

However, there won't be any more details about what happened until those reports are released.