Federal prosecutors involved in escapee’s case get protection
BY FRANK MAIN AND FRAN SPIELMAN Staff Reporters December 19, 2012 11:24AM
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
Updated: January 21, 2013 3:49PM
Even though he made an apparent threat to a judge last week, Joseph “Jose” Banks wasn’t under extra security in the federal jail in downtown Chicago.
The convicted bank robber escaped from the Metropolitan Correctional Center early Tuesday with fellow bank robber Kenneth Conley. They apparently crawled through a hole bashed in their 17th-floor cell and slid down a rope fashioned from sheets.
Last week, Banks told U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer, “You’ll hear from me!” after he was found guilty of bank robbery. An apparent threat like that would typically land a prisoner in a special housing unit where he would be allowed out just one hour a day until authorities checked it out, said a source familiar with the jail’s procedures.
The decision to house Banks in the general jail population raises questions about the security there, the source said. Indeed, Pallmeyer and the federal prosecutors in Banks’ case are now being given special protection because of the apparent threat.
On Wednesday, authorities said a videotape from a private surveillance camera showed the robbers fleeing in a cab on Congress Parkway around 2:40 a.m. Tuesday.
Officials continued the manhunt Wednesday and the FBI offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to the escapees’ capture.
On Wednesday, the head of the national jail guards union and Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy raised questions about the escape, but federal prison officials didn’t have many answers.
Dale Deshotel, president of the Council of Prison Locals 33, said the escape raises key concerns about whether there was enough staffing at the jail and whether it was an “inside job” that involved a bribed jail employee. He also wondered whether jail officials assigned anyone to conduct regular patrols outside the facility to look for signs of an escape.
McCarthy said the daring breakout will almost certainly result in disciplinary action — and it should.
“There’s probably some sort of a systematic problem, and I’m sure that they will address it,” he said.
Banks and Conley were accounted for at a 10 p.m. Monday head count. Jail employees discovered the escape at 7 a.m. Tuesday. It’s unclear what happened during the usual head counts at midnight, 3 a.m. and 5 a.m.
Ed Ross, spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, said escapes from “secured facilities” like the MCC are rare.
“From time to time, we have inmates who walk away from camps, but those are not considered secured facilities, and they don’t have fences and perimeter patrols,” he said.
Ross said the last escape from a secured federal facility was in 2006, when convicted murderer Richard McNair busted out of the U.S. penitentiary in Pollock, La.
Ross said he couldn’t provide details of the circumstances surrounding Tuesday’s escape.
In 1985, two inmates engineered a similar breakout from the MCC. They smuggled a barbell from a workout area into their sixth-floor cell and punched a hole in the cinder-block wall. They used a cord connected to a floor buffer to rappel down the wall to the plaza below.
Last year, a Chicago narcotics kingpin testified about several glaring security breaches at the MCC. Saul Rodriguez told a jury he recruited his wife and an inmate to smuggle a cellphone into the jail. He also said he used his job as a jail orderly to get close to a Mexican drug cartel leader who wanted government witnesses killed.