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UPDATE: State officials apologize to Custer County over escapee reporting issue

CUSTER COUNTY, Okla. – There is new evidence in a story NewsChannel 4 first brought you Tuesday evening.

In Oklahoma when an inmate escapes from a county jail, it must be reported to the state.

Earlier this week, we looked into the reporting of three recent escapees from county jails, but now new details in one of those cases leads to an apology from one state agency to an Oklahoma jail.

When NewsChannel 4 originally reported the story, state authorities at the Department of Health say they were not aware of an escape from the Custer County Jail during an interview.

However, NewsChannel 4 has since uncovered documentation that Custer County Authorities did report the escape and has the evidence to prove it.

“You’ve reached the jail inspection division. We’re either on the phone or away from the office. Please leave your name, phone number and a brief message, and we’ll return your call. Thank you,” states audio recording during a phone call made by Custer County authorities that was placed about 11:30 AM on Sunday, June 8, 2014.

“This is Jerry Wood, Jail Administrator for Custer  County Jail. I’m calling to report an escape from our facility at 10:10 this morning, Sunday, June 8,” said Jerry Wood, Custer County Jail Administrator.

That escape was reported about an hour and a half after it happened which was well within the one day time frame given by the state to report such an incident.

“We did what we were supposed to,” Custer County Undersheriff Kenneth Tidwell said.

Then Tidwell said the jail administrator placed another call about five minutes later to the jail inspector for the area.

“Cindy, this is Jerry Wood at Custer County Jail calling to report an escape,” Wood said.

However, on Tuesday, June 10, those messages somehow were not acknowledged when NewsChannel 4 contacted the Oklahoma State Department of Health to confirm the escape was reported in a timely manner, but Custer County officials believe that process needs improvement.

“There needs to be something put in place that we can talk to a live person so that there is no miscommunication or misunderstandings that can occur,” Tidwell said.

The Custer County jail administrator also tried to fax a report to the state on June 9, but it never got there.

A second attempt the next afternoon  was received just after 3 pm.

Custer County fax to the OK State Department of Health

“Taking a look at the reporting procedures to the state so there is not a lack of communication or so information is not lost. We want to comply with the standards,” Tidwell said. “ We also want to make sure that we have a vehicle that allows us to comply with the standards.”

After the Department of Health gets an escape report, they look into how the escape happened and how jail authorities can prevent it from happening again.

“They have an important job to do, and we appreciate everything that they do for us,” Tidwell said. “I believe the state health department has indicated to us that they are going to review those procedures and maybe make some changes to where it’s a better system.”

The Oklahoma State Department of Health issued an apology letter to the Custer County Sheriff.

It states the department “erred in reporting Custer County had not reported the escape occurring on June 8, 2014.”

It goes on to say a “subsequent review found a voice message left with a representative of the department on June 9, 2014 providing notification of the escape.”

Read full apology letter from the Oklahoma State Department of Health

The Custer County Jail will not be cited for any wrongdoing.