(Courtesy of Chron.com)
The convicted rapist who escaped from a prison van in Baytown and spent a week on the run has given Texas Rangers the names of two prison employees he says helped him get away, community activist Quanell X said today.
Arcade Joseph Comeaux Jr., 49, also today directed authorities to the intersection of Wayside and Little York, where he says he stashed a shotgun and ammunition he took after pulling a pistol on the guards who were driving him to a new prison unit when he escaped.
Comeaux has told Quanell X that Texas Department of Criminal Justice staff smuggled him a gun and helped him hide it inside his prison cell and that he stayed in safe houses with the help of a large criminal network tied to the state prison system. Comeaux gave the names of a guard and a nurse at the Estelle Unit in Huntsville.
“He said he had the gun inside his cell for three weeks and that he got assistance and help in hiding the gun from staff,” the activist said Tuesday night. “He said to me that he knows that there are more weapons in TDCJ than just the one he got a hold of.”
Comeaux paid for the gun, a .380-caliber semiautomatic pistol, with money he made selling drugs in prison, Quannel X said after meeting with Comeaux for a second time today. Comeaux said he is part of a prison gang that has managed to corrupt members of the Estelle Unit staff.
Comeaux, who is serving three life sentences for sexually assaulting a child and for stabbing his wife and another man during a prison visit, also said he was supposed to break out of prison with a group of inmates, but grew anxious and bolted early, Quanell X said.
The details Comeaux shared were alarming and demand an honest response from TDCJ, the activist said.
“I would say there is a serious problem of corruption within the Texas Department of Corrections with guards, and many of these guards are being paid from (sales) proceeds of drugs and cell phones being brought on to the unit,” Quanell X said. “Drugs and cell phones are sold on the unit, and then that money is used to pay guards for corrupt purposes.”
TDCJ Inspector General John Moriarty questioned Comeaux’s credibility, but said his allegations will be thoroughly investigated.
“I think if he had help when he got out, it was minimal,” Moriarty said. “Somebody that has this big criminal network does not remain in the same clothes eight days after the escape.”
Comeaux slept on a school bus before he walked early Monday, barefooted and hungry, to a nearby northeast Houston factory and asked to use the telephone. He was recaptured after employees there recognized him and called police. His shabby appearance Monday suggests no criminal network was involved, Moriarty said.
“That part about a large criminal network is definitely untrue,” Moriarty said.
Shackled to wheelchair
Comeaux broke free Nov. 30 when he pulled a gun on two transport officers driving him in a van from the prison system’s Estelle Unit in Huntsville to the Stiles Unit in Beaumont. Despite being handcuffed and shackled to a wheelchair, Comeaux managed to pull the smuggled gun and fired a warning shot at one of the officers inside the van as they reached Conroe. After forcing them to stop in northeast Houston, Comeaux ordered both officers into the back of the van and to handcuff themselves to each other. He then drove the van to Baytown, where he dressed in one officer’s uniform and boots, stole the officers’ three guns and walked away.
Neither of the transport officers helped with the escape, and both were taken by surprise, Comeaux told Quanell X. But other TDCJ staff were involved, Comeaux said.
Moriarty said while cell phones have turned up frequently among inmates inside Texas prisons — with 1,200 confiscated in 2008 and 900 seized so far this year — guns are few and far between.
The last gun found in a state inmate’s possession was discovered at the Hughes Unit two years ago, and the firearm was seized before anything happened, he said.
“Mr. Comeaux’s credibility is certainly in question on this,” Moriarty said. “But that’s not saying we’re not going to look at these allegations or investigate them.”
Prison system spokeswoman Michelle Lyons also urged caution before accepting Comeaux’s word as fact.
“Comeaux also swore to anyone who would listen that he was incapable of walking,” Lyons said, a claim clearly disproved by the inmate’s week on the lam.
State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, and two Texas Rangers also met with Comeaux on Tuesday, but Whitmire declined to reveal details.
“You have to keep in mind who you’re dealing with — he’s a con artist,” said Whitmire, chairman of the Senate’s Criminal Justice Committee. “He had mixed stories concerning the location” of a shotgun that is still missing.
But Whitmire said the escaped convict confirmed some suspicions. “He certainly had assistance getting the firearm,” Whitmire said. “There is just way too much contraband that enters our prisons.”
Whitmire called for a major review and audit of the prison system and greater accountability among the staff.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst also questioned Tuesday why state prison officials allowed Comeaux to have a wheelchair when they had videotape from two years ago showing that he could walk.
Dewhurst seeks hearings
Dewhurst said he is asking Whitmire to hold hearings to determine how the gun and other contraband got smuggled into the prison and why Comeaux continued to be treated as an invalid.
The lieutenant governor said he is not ready to join Whitmire’s call for an overhaul of the prison system’s administration, but hopes the hearings will give him more information.
TDCJ Executive Director Brad Livingston has sent Dewhurst a three-page letter outlining measures the prison system has taken to improve security since Comeaux’s escape.
Chronicle reporter R.G. Ratcliffe contributed to this report
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