Escapee Joseph “Jose” Banks caught after daring jailbreak
By FRANK MAIN AND STEFANO ESPOSITO Staff Reporters December 20, 2012 8:12PM
Joseph "Jose" Banks escaped from the Metropolitan Correctional Center at 71 W. Van Buren St. Last week, Banks told U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer, “You’ll hear from me!” after he was found guilty of bank robbery. | FBI photo
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Updated: January 22, 2013 6:26AM
Joseph “Jose” Banks, one of two convicted bank robbers who escaped from the Metropolitan Correctional Center this week, was caught late Thursday night in the 2300 block of North Bosworth, authorities said.
His cellmate, Kenneth Conley, was still at large early Friday.
A statement said agents and officers from the Chicago FBI’s Violent Crimes Task Force and Chicago Police officers arrested Banks about 11:30 p.m. Thursday. Banks, who has been dubbed the “Secondhand Bandit” was not armed when he was captured, a law enforcement source told the Chicago Sun-Times.
Hezekiah Hopper-Bey, who lives next door to the two-story red brick apartment where Banks was caught, said he saw Banks on a cell phone outside with a white T-shirt and blue gym shorts before 20 FBI officials swarmed the block.
“I was lying down watching TV and I heard a gunshot. I came to the window. I saw the FBI pointing guns at the bank robber,” Hopper-Bey said Friday morning.
Hopper-Bey said he saw Banks run down a path between two buildings. Banks then darted in to the building into a first floor apartment.
Minutes later, FBI officials emerged with what appeared to be a yellow shoe box and a handcuffed Banks, Hopper-Bey said.
“He wasn’t shouting. He was walking calm, like. ‘I got caught,’” Hopper-Bey said of the defeated bank robber.
Hopper-Bey said he knows Banks’ cousin who lives in the neighborhood but said the apartment Unit D where Banks ran into was not his relative’s.
Had Hopper-Bey known Banks was an escaped convict, he said he would have called authorities.
“If I would have seen him, I would have turned him in. I need that money,” Hopper-Bey joked of the loot Banks had stolen. “If I’d had the money, I’d be in Hawaii lying on the beach with some honeys.”
Dennisha Franklin, 24, was coming home from work Thursday night when she saw a half dozen FBI agents surrounding the building on Bosworth with their guns drawn, pointing to the ground.
Fearing for her safety, Franklin said she ran into her building.
The gunshot some neighbors heard, Franklin said, may have been when the FBI agents kicked in the door, which had two dents near the door knob Friday.
“I was scared. I didn’t know what was going on,” Franklin said. “I was scared to even come out of my door. Thank God my kids were asleep.”
Days before his escape, Banks was convicted of four bank heists. The 37-year-old represented himself during the jury trial, and when he was convicted he vowed: “You’ll hear from me!”
On Friday, authorities continued investigating as to how Banks and his partner were able to flee.
Earlier Thursday, a union official said a staffing shortage in the federal jail in downtown Chicago contributed to a series of security snafus that made this week’s daring escape possible. Banks and Conley crawled out a hole in the wall of their 17th-floor cell in the Metropolitan Correctional Center and slid down a rope made of bedsheets early Tuesday.
The breakout was caught on surveillance video, but a guard assigned to monitor the cameras didn’t see it because he was counting prisoners on another floor, the official said. FBI agents later recovered a private surveillance video of Banks and Conley jumping into a cab near the jail at about 2:40 a.m. Tuesday. But jail officers didn’t notice they had escaped until 7 a.m. that morning. The escapees stopped briefly at Conley mother’s house in Tinley Park before they vanished, authorities said.
An official with the Council of Prison Locals 33, which represents the guards in the jail, spoke to the Chicago Sun-Times about the escape on the condition that his name not be used. The union official said two officers were assigned to a control room where the closed-circuit TV monitors for the jail’s security cameras are located.
But one of them was preoccupied answering phone calls from other officers providing the results of their prisoner counts. Because of a staffing shortage, the other officer was on the 17th floor doing a count — instead of monitoring the cameras, the official said. “The timing was just perfect,” official said. “Does it make sense? Absolutely not. It’s a breach of security.”
Several years ago, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons cut back on the staffing of correctional facilities across the country, including the MCC, the union official said.
Because of the cuts, the MCC no longer assigns an officer to a car to patrol the jail’s perimeter — which includes Clark, Federal, Van Buren and Congress, the official said. The mobile officer was supposed to look for signs of escape on the building’s exterior.
The jail also used to have an officer walking a foot patrol outside the jail 24 hours a day on three shifts. Now only one officer is assigned to a foot patrol from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., the union official said.
But that officer is primarily responsible for watching for people at the front entrance, at the vehicle entrance for transporting prisoners to the jail and in the employee parking lot, the union official said.
The official said the staffing shortage limits the number of “shakedowns” of prisoners’ cells, too. The searches are important in finding contraband that inmates hide in their cells.
As for whether he thinks anyone working for the jail helped Banks and Conley escape, the official said he was told that the FBI’s investigation found no initial evidence of an “inside job.”
“Let the investigation fall where it may,” said the union official. “The bottom line is to basically make sure this doesn’t happen again. The objective of the union and management should be safety. We need more staff to be safe.”
Responding to a request for comment on the union official’s view, Ed Ross, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons wrote in an email: “At this time it would be premature to speculate regarding any of these matters as the entire incident is still under investigation.”