“ESCAPEE FROM PARCHMAN SOUGHT,” began a Facebook post by the Mississippi Department of Corrections earlier this month.
The post, first made public at 9:33 a.m. Oct. 5, included two mugshots of Matthew Craig McKamey, the prisoner said to have escaped from Unit 30 at Mississippi State Penitentiary that day.
But McKamey did not escape from the unit that morning. And MDOC never alerted the public to the identity of the man who did.
Corrections agency employees took nearly 90 minutes to figure out who was missing from Unit 30 D building, during which they repeatedly misidentified McKamey as the escapee, shows an incident report obtained by Mississippi Today. The report details a lack of communication between employees, who failed to correctly identify the missing person during recounts.
MDOC communications director Grace Fisher did not return a reporter’s phone call or respond to emailed questions for this story.
Here’s what happened on Oct. 5, according to the incident report written by Unit 30 Control Officer Barbara Huskey. Times are approximate:
- At 8:07 a.m., an officer informed Huskey that McKamey was not accounted for during a certified body count in Unit 30 D. Huskey advised the officer to conduct a recount and notified a correctional supervisor.
- At 8:14 a.m., the supervisor confirmed a discrepancy in the count. The prison was placed on a yellow alert, which indicates that a prisoner is likely missing and prompts another count.
- One minute later, a kitchen supervisor told Huskey that an inmate had told her that another inmate had jumped the fence. “I asked why she didn’t notify control and she stated that she thought I knew already,” Huskey wrote.
- At 8:21 a.m., another recount confirmed that McKamey was unaccounted for. The prison was placed on red alert.
- For the next hour, a number of prison staff, including Parchman Superintendent Marshall Turner, entered and exited the unit.
- At 8:31 a.m., a call was made at a sergeant’s house on prison premises because a vehicle had been broken into.
- At 9:35 a.m., two minutes after MDOC publicly stated on Facebook that it was searching for McKamey, a correctional supervisor informed Huskey that McKamey was accounted for in Unit 30 and that a different inmate, Darrie Price, was not.
By that afternoon, the original Facebook post informing the public of McKamey’s escape had been edited six times. Edit history on the post shows it was revised to note McKamey was found on prison grounds. None of the revisions mentions the name of Darrie Price, the missing inmate.
The incident report does not detail actions by employees following the discovery that Price was missing.
An online database shows Price is in custody and was moved to Parchman’s Unit 29 on Oct. 7. He is serving 15 years on burglary and possession of stolen property convictions from 2017 in Bolivar County.
MDOC did not confirm whether Price is now in administrative segregation. Agency policy indicates that inmates may be placed in administrative segregation, also known as solitary confinement, following an escape attempt.
McKamey, the misidentified inmate, was moved to Unit 29 on Oct. 9, according to the agency database. He is serving a life sentence for a 2013 capital murder conviction in Harrison County.
Cathy Nance, McKamey’s mother, said that prison employees later placed McKamey in a “lockdown tank” and interrogated him on whether he had helped Price escape. McKamey has been questioned twice, Nance learned through conversations with her son and other people in the unit.
“My son will do the time, but he will not be mistreated by the system,” Nance wrote in an email to Mississippi Today. Nance clarified in a subsequent interview that during the emergency counts, her son was washing clothes in the restroom, leading employees to mark him as missing. She maintains there are eyewitnesses to the event.
McKamey is currently in solitary confinement, his mother said. His family has been repeatedly calling the prison in an attempt to advocate for him.
“We’re concerned for his safety, his mental condition and the fact that we can’t get anyone to return calls or speak to somebody that has some information,” Nance said.
MDOC reported a staffing vacancy rate of 42 percent at Parchman at the beginning of the year. That level of understaffing leads to a system set up to fail in incidents such as this one, said Paloma Wu, an attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center in Jackson.
“It raises a legitimate question of whether those counts were actually happening,” Wu said of the incident.
Emmitt Sparkman, a former Parchman superintendent who retired from MDOC in 2016, said accurate counts are needed to ensure prisoners are where they are supposed to be: “Count is the most important thing you do to make sure you’ve got everybody there,” he said.
The attempt marks the seventh escapee who MDOC has named so far this year. All of the prior men who escaped were each found in less than a week.
A felony escape conviction carries a sentence of up to five years in prison.