One of the eight escaped convicts from La Reforma prison is dead and four others are back in police hands after two separate police operations this week. Three others are still at large.
The convicts broke out of La Reforma, Costa Rica’s largest prison, in the hours before dawn Oct. 9 after sawing through their window bars, taking multiple guards hostage and killing another (TT, Oct. 13).
Tuesday morning, at approximately 1 a.m., police descended on four of the fugitives holed up at a house in a residential community in Guácimo, on the Caribbean slope. A fifth was arrested two days earlier while drinking at the annual Carnival in the Caribbean port town of Limón.
According to Jorge Rojas, the director of the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ), police had detected the fugitives in Guácimo eight days earlier and located the house Saturday, but were waiting for the “opportune moment” to take action. That moment came Tuesday morning, and as the officers approached the building, the convicts, who were sleeping fully clothed and armed, were alerted and began to shoot at the police, Rojas said. The officers returned fire, and the ensuing shootout left one of the escaped convicts dead and injured two others, one seriously. No police officers were injured.
Police also arrested two others who were found in the house, including a pregnant woman believed to be the girlfriend of one of the fugitives. Rojas said they both are connected to various kidnappings in the area.
In the house, OIJ officials found eight guns – including two arms taken from guards at La Reforma during the prison break, as well as two fragmentation grenades and one gas grenade, Rojas told The Tico Times.
The OIJ director identified the convict who died at the scene as Freddy García, 33, who was serving 20 years for a homicide conviction. Johel Guillermo Araya, 48, was seriously injured by police gunfire, Rojas said, and transferred to the CalderónGuardiaHospital in delicate condition. Araya was serving four years for robbery, kidnapping for extortion and impersonating a public officer. Alberto Martínez, 38, who was sentenced to 45 years for kidnapping for extortion and other crimes, was shot in the foot during the operation and is in police custody. The OIJ also arrested Johnny Rodríguez, 46, who was serving 31 years for four counts of rape, sexual abuse and kidnapping.
Two days earlier, in downtown Limón, police arrested Roberto Clark, 21, as he was drinking at an improvised bar during the Limón Carnival. When he escaped La Reforma, Clark was serving a five-year sentence for charges of aggravated robbery.
Authorities had been tipped off on Oct. 17 that Clark was in the area, but were not able to locate him until Sunday, said Luís Hernández, the Limón regional director of the National Police. Hernández said 14 police officers took part in capturing Clark, who resisted arrest and broke a beer bottle across the face of one of the police officers. The officer was treated at a nearby hospital. Police arrested Clark, who was carrying a .38-caliber handgun, and a companion who was also armed.
All prisoners, with the exception of Araya, who is hospitalized, have been returned to La Reforma, Rojas said. The escaped convicts could get two years added to their sentences for the escape, and face additional charges of homicide for the death of prison guard Marco Tulio Prado, 40, which could add as many as 35 years to each convict’s sentence.
Prison authorities have acknowledged several errors in operations at La Reforma the night of the escape, including waiting 50 minutes before informing police there was a prison break. Six of the inmates escaped in a dark-colored sports utility vehicle that was waiting for them 500 meters from the main entrance, getting a significant head start on national search efforts. Also, the prisoners escaped thanks to three saw blades and a .38-caliber handgun somehow smuggled into the prison. In addition, three internal gates were left unlocked and all the security chiefs were asleep at the time of the escape, though prison regulations say at least one chief should be on duty at all times (TT, Oct. 20).
The Justice Ministry has created a special commission to analyze the breakout and evaluate a new crisis protocol that Justice Minister Laura Chinchilla had planned to present the same week the prisoners escaped, but postponed.