Helicopters were in the air. Well-armed special response police teams searched everywhere. Police dogs were out trying to pick up a scent. All to find an inmate who escaped from a suburban Washington D.C. hospital.
Police said inmate Wossen Assaye overpowered a private security guard and took her gun when her partner went to the restroom. After eight hours of searching, Assaye was taken back into custody.
Assaye has since been convicted of the crime he’d been arrested for and is serving time in a federal prison in Florida.
Jose Rojas is the union representative for the federal corrections workers at the prison where Assaye is being housed.
He says he doesn’t want to see what happened there to happen here or anywhere.
“In my opinion it’s a life and death issue,” Rojas told the NBC 6 Investigators. “These inmates are drug dealers, kidnappers, some of them have committed murder with 13 to 15 years left on their sentence. So, that’s a heck of an incentive to escape.”
Currently, federal corrections officers watch inmates who need medical treatment at South Florida Hospitals, but the officers learned that could soon change.
“I just received a letter from our regional director that they are in the process of looking for a guard service,” says Sam Catchings, a corrections officer at the prison in Southwest Miami Dade County that’s known as FCI Miami.
Catchings, who is the local union leader, said inmates are taken for medical care frequently.
“Three or four times a day,” he says. “Any and all of the hospitals in the Miami-Dade area we are using. “
Catchings wrote a letter to the former US Attorney General to warn about the change to private security guards.
Catchings wrote the plan “places the security of the general public at high risk”.
Federal buildings throughout the US including in South Florida use contract security guards.
But Rojas believes a hospital is different.
“You’ve got the nurses. You’ve got the doctors. You’ve got the regular public out there. You put them in danger,” Rojas said. "We get to bring them to the hospital with belly chains, handcuffs, leg irons, with a weapon. We pass them off to the guard services who don’t handcuff them. They don’t have any weapons and leave them there at the hospital."
The Federal Bureau of Prisons confirmed that it is looking to hire private guards to handle inmates inside the hospitals.
But while the federal correctional officers maintain the private guards don’t have the proper training, the warden’s office at FCI-Miami told us told us the public is not being placed in any danger.
“Contract guard services are only used to transport low security individuals. At no time has public safety been in jeopardy with the use of guard services,” wrote Stevie M. Knight, the Associate Warden at FCI-Miami. ”All guard service contracts require training to ensure individuals are properly prepared to maintain the care custody and control of low security inmates.”
Rojas told us all of this is being done to cut costs, but he worries about the risk to the public.
“It’s to save money plain and simple, he says. “Why take that chance?”
McKnight agreed it’s being done to save money, but says this is being done responsibly.
“Contract guard services allow the facility to maintain public safety and be fiscally responsible with taxpayer funds,” he wrote.
The Bureau of Prisons didn’t provide specifics about when the private guards would be in place.