Prosecutors charge Morales after escape from Wyatt

Prison board of directors call emergency meeting to discuss 'security matters'

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The Rhode Island U.S. Attorney’s Office has officially filed a criminal charge against a detainee who escaped from the Wyatt Detention Facility on New Year’s Eve.

James Morales, 35, was charged Tuesday at U.S. District Court in Providence with “escape from custody of attorney general.” The affidavit, which would outline much of the case against Morales, remains under seal by Magistrate Judge Patricia Sullivan.

The charge comes with a potential of five years behind bars and three years probation with a $250,000 fine. Morales remains at large.

Meanwhile, the board of directors that governs Wyatt has called an emergency meeting for Thursday at 5:30 p.m.

The agenda, filed on Tuesday, said the board would be discussing “security matters” and “investigative proceedings” in executive session, which means the discussion will not be open to the public.

Reached by phone, board Chairman Luke Gallant declined to comment, adding “we’re still in the thick of it all and trying to find Mr. Morales.”

Wyatt is a publicly owned but privately run prison. Its board is appointed by Central Falls Mayor James Diossa.

A multi-state effort to track down Morales resumed on Wednesday. Federal, state, and local authorities are working together to canvass the region to find the former Army Reservist who officials said is dangerous and may be armed.

Video evidence shows Morales escaped at about 6:45 p.m. Saturday by climbing a basketball hoop, cutting through fencing, and descending down a wall, according to Warden Daniel Martin.

Martin said Morales’ disappearance went unnoticed until an inmate count at 10:30 p.m. U.S. Marshal Jamie Hainsworth on Tuesday said local police were contacted at about 11:43 p.m.

Wednesday, a spokesperson for Wyatt did not deny the delay in calling police, confirming that the inmate was found to be missing at 10:30 p.m. and police were only called after multiple searches of the facility and additional inmate counts were conducted.

The spokesperson, Chris Hunter, would not comment on specifics regarding security measures that did or did not properly operate then night of the escape. He said such questions would be addressed after an internal investigation is conducted.

Jim Martin, a spokesperson for both the Rhode Island U.S. Attorney and U.S. Marshals Office, said law enforcement determined quickly there was no immediate threat to the residents of Central Falls.

“Within minutes after arriving at the prison and determining that an escape had occurred, Central Falls officers at the prison and elsewhere had gathered evidence indicating that Mr. Morales had already left the area and posed no immediate danger to the citizens of Central Falls,” Martin said in an email. “That determination allowed all available law enforcement resources to continue to focus on gathering as much evidence as possible as quickly as possible in an attempt to locate Mr. Morales.”

Confident Morales was injured by razor wire during his escape, authorities are alerting hospitals, walk-in centers, and medical professionals to be on the lookout.

The search at one point moved north to the Framingham area, where police found a car they believe Morales stole from an Attleboro business. The car had blood in it and was sporting stolen plates, police said.

Framingham resident Vanessa Lugo said she saw Morales looking through her apartment window Saturday night.

“He had a bag with clothes, already changed, he had no blood on him at that time,” she recalled.

Morales was being held at Wyatt as he awaited trial. He’s accused of stealing guns from an Army Reserve facility in Worcester in 2015.

Morales also faces an unrelated charge out of Middlesex County for the alleged violent rape of a child, according to Massachusetts State Police.

Investigators have not given any indication where they think Morales might be, but Hainsworth had a message to anyone who may be helping him evade the authorities.

“Aiding and abetting an escaped prisoner is a federal offense, said Hainsworth. “My second message is they have a responsibility to their citizens and families, as well.”

As for Morales, Hainsworth’s message to him was a simple one: “Turn yourself in.”

Two correctional officers were placed on administrative leave in the wake of Morales’ escape.