Escape prompts review of Tangipahoa Parish Jail construction

The 8-inch hole in the jail cell’s cinderblock wall was all that remained where Verdale Anthony Moore should have been when guards at Tangipahoa Parish Jail called for an inmate count overnight Sunday.

Moore had used a piece of metal from his bunk bed to scrape his way through the wall, while other inmates diverted the attention of the lone guard manning the 132-inmate wing of the jail, Sheriff Daniel Edwards said Tuesday. Had the wall been reinforced with rebar as designed, Moore’s dig would have failed.

But, Moore did squeeze through the hole and once outside, scaled the razor-wire fence running the perimeter of the property behind Winn-Dixie on Campo Lane in Amite. He then made his way to relatives in town, who gave him a cellphone he used to call for a ride, Edwards said. While Moore headed to Osyka, Mississippi, where he was captured around 2:45 p.m. Monday, two other inmates who had tried to escape with him remained in the parish jail.

One of those inmates managed to squeeze through the same 8-inch cinderblock hole, only to have to return to his cell when he couldn’t scale the fence. Another found he was too large to fit through the hole, Edwards said.

Tips and statements from other inmates helped authorities from Tangipahoa Parish and the Pike County Sheriff’s Office find Moore at a residence near Osyka, just over the state line along Interstate 55.

A Tangipahoa Parish sheriff’s spokeswoman said Tuesday that the homeowner’s level of involvement in the scheme is unknown and the investigation is ongoing.

Moore waived extradition and was taken back to Tangipahoa Parish Jail — with a brief layover at Lallie Kemp Hospital in Independence to treat leg wounds from the razor-wire fence — between late Monday and early Tuesday, Edwards said. Moore has been placed in a maximum-security holding area in the jail and will face a new charge related to his escape.

“He did not, as far as we know, commit any additional crimes once he left (the jail),” Edwards said.

Moore already was awaiting trial on a second-degree murder count in what authorities have described as a drive-by shooting resulting from a feud over rap music lyrics. Sandra Butler, 37, of Independence, was killed in the Feb. 4 shooting.

Moore’s breach of the cinderblock jail wall — the first escape of its kind in Tangipahoa Parish, Edwards said — revealed a much larger problem with the 1980s-era facility.

The jail’s exterior walls were designed to include vertical and horizontal rows of ¾ -inch rebar, but there was no rebar to be found in the hole Moore dug, Edwards said.

“If this particular area had been fortified with rebar as called for, this escape would not have been possible,” Edwards said.

Jail and parish government staff spent hours Monday attaching steel plates, floor-to-ceiling, not only where Moore escaped but also in other areas where officials identified concerns, Edwards said.

“I personally spoke with Parish President Gordon Burgess yesterday and asked for a complete assessment of the jail to see if there are any other areas with structural or construction deficiencies,” Edwards said Tuesday.

The sheriff also ordered all 526 beds in the jail to be stripped of the metal pieces like the one Moore used to escape. That work is ongoing and may take a couple of days, Edwards said.

The jailbreak has renewed discussion of the sheriff’s call for a tax to support building a new jail. A half-cent sales tax the sheriff proposed last year failed at the polls Oct. 19 by a 9-percent margin.

A 2011 study of the jail, commissioned by the sheriff, found that the general physical condition of the facility had deteriorated since it was built in the mid-1980s. The report also noted significant “sight-line” problems in many areas of the jail, including each of the three housing wings in which one guard is charged with overseeing 132 to 160 inmates.

The report recommended either extensively renovating the existing jail or building a new one.

“Certainly, nothing has changed for the better (since the tax failed),” Edwards said. “There’s no question we need additional space. We need a new facility.”

Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter @HeidiRKinchen.