PALMYRA, Mo. -- A plan by several inmates to escape from the Marion County Jail was thwarted last week, thanks to a tip from a former jail prisoner.
Sheriff Jimmy Shinn said the prisoner, who has since been moved to a different Missouri jail for safety reasons, told a federal marshal June 6 about an escape being planned at the jail. The marshal, in turn, contacted Shinn to let him know what he had heard.
"We acted immediately on it," Shinn said in an interview.
Shinn said jail personnel removed all inmates from one particular section of the jail's second floor and then searched each cell. In one three-person cell, he said, jail personnel found a spot where two large concrete blocks had been removed from an interior wall -- thereby corroborating the informant's claims.
Shinn said the opening in the wall led to a confined area containing piping and ventilation ducts.
"The only place they could have gone was up into the ductwork," Shinn said. However, he said there was no way anyone could have gotten out of the building that way because "the ceiling is completely wrapped with sheet metal wire mesh."
Shinn said the three inmates who occupied that cell have been separated and are now being held in different sections of the jail on high-risk status. Two of the men are local people who had been arrested on drug-related offenses, while the third is a federal inmate -- one of 29 prisoners being held in the Marion County Jail through a contractual arrangement with the state.
Shinn said all three prisoners face potential charges. However, it will be up the county prosecutor to decide whether attempted escape charges should be brought based on whether the allegations "can possibly be proven," Shinn said.
"At this point in time I'm really classifying this more as a property damage" offense, he said.
Shinn said investigators are still trying to piece together what happened in the cell, but he acknowledged "it's going to be very difficult to prove who did what" in removing the concrete blocks.
"It's an area of the jail that is outside the view of the camera," he said. "Once they're in there, we can't see what activity they're doing in there."
Meanwhile, the cell in which the concrete blocks were removed has been shut down temporarily. A contractor was at the jail Tuesday to determine what repairs should be carried out on an emergency basis to secure the wall.
Shinn said federal marshals inspected the jail last week to make sure the facility is secure enough to hold federal prisoners.
"They're satisfied with everything," he said.
Shinn said marshals even asked him whether Marion County would like to take in an additional 10 federal prisoners, but the county had to reject the offer because the jail is already near its 104-prisoner capacity. It had 99 inmates Tuesday, he said.
"I want to assure the county residents that everything is safe and secure here," Shinn said. "Business is as usual. We caught it in time and got everything stopped. Everything is fine."
Shinn provided a report about the incident at Monday's Marion County Commission meeting.