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Inmate jumps wall at Pima jail, escape unnoticed for more than 12 hours

An inmate awaiting trial at the Pima County Jail climbed over a wall Tuesday afternoon, but was not reported as missing until Wednesday morning, authorities said. Jose Fernandez, 29, was captured Wednesday night after his escape the day before.

Fernandez, booked into the Adult Detention Complex in February on charges of aggravated assault, auto theft, burglary, resisting arrest and vandalism, had been "inappropriately transferred to a lower security area" of the jail, a Pima County Sheriff's Department spokeswoman said.

Around 4 p.m. Tuesday, Fernandez "scaled a block wall and managed to break through the steel mesh that covered the exercise yard," said Deputy Marissa Hernandez.

"This went unnoticed by our corrections staff monitoring the inmates," Hernandez said. "He was last seen on foot, running down Mission Road."

"He got through an area that we thought was impossible," Sheriff Mark Napier told TucsonSentinel.com on Wednesday afternoon.

Wednesday night, the sheriff told TucsonSentinel.com that the escapee had been taken into custody.

"We found in him in homeless camp" near Valencia Road, Napier said. "He'll now be appropriately housed" at the jail.

It wasn't until 6:50 a.m. Wednesday that deputies were summoned to the jail, near West Silverlake and South Mission roads, with a report of the escape.

"It appears that corrections staff failed to provide appropriate oversight of the inmates in the recreation yard. It is clear that the evening physical head count was not conducted in accordance with department policies and procedures," she said in a news release Wednesday afternoon.

The inmate's escape was "unnoticed for an unacceptable amount of time. We will address these issues as part of a formal review of the incident and take corrective action," Hernandez said.

"There were no red flags" about Fernandez while he was being held at the jail, Napier said. "He managed to shimmy up a pole along a wall, and get through some mesh over the top of an exercise yard."

"Welds holding it had failed," Napier told TucsonSentinel.com. Inmates in the yard were playing netless volleyball, and "there was a lot of movement" during the game. The escaped inmate is "so small in stature" that he was able to squeeze through a gap after "banging on the mesh."

"The head count was not done right; there's no way to candy-coat it," the Republican sheriff said. "There were mistakes made."

PCSD's Fugitive Investigative Strike Team carried out the search for Fernandez. "Anyone who actively aids Mr. Fernandez in his attempt to avoid capture will be criminally prosecuted," said the department spokeswoman earlier in the day. "We are asking for the public’s assistance in locating him. Anyone with information on his whereabouts is asked to call 9-1-1."

"He's back in custody," Napier told the Sentinel in a phone call Wednesday night, describing his department's fugitive search squad as "at our best when we're out chasing something."

"Whatever charges he was facing are now aggravated tenfold" with the escape, the sheriff said, noting that the inmate may have had a prior record in Colorado that would have made the consequences of the arrest that put him in jail here more serious.

"The escape charge is much more serious than what he was in there on" already, he said.

Fernandez is a Hispanic male, 29 years old, and about 5' tall. He has black hair with a buzz cut, brown eyes, and weighs about 135 lbs. He was last seen wearing a white shirt and boxer shorts, Hernandez said in an earlier appeal for public help in tracking him down.

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The inmate "had been in our custody for approximately six weeks and had not exhibited any behaviors that led staff to believe he was not suitable for a lower security placement," Hernandez said.

Fernandez had asked a judge last week to reduce his bond and release him from jail pending trial, but that motion was refused.

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