Chester County officials had a heads-up that Danilo Cavalcante might try to escape.
“I am just sending this cause I don’t want this to come back on us or [Officer] Hernandez in anyway [sic],” Chester County Prison Sgt. Jerry Beavers wrote to Cpt. Harry Griswold several hours after the escape on Aug. 31. “He noted back in July that this inmate was planning an escape.” That email was obtained and first reported by ABC News.
Chester County residents spent two weeks living in fear after Cavalcante crab-walked up two walls at the Chester County Prison, climbed to the roof, jumped into a less secure jail section, and walked away.
An intense manhunt brought some 500 federal agents and state police into the county to help county and local police search for him.
Cavalcante, a native Brazilian wanted for murder there, was convicted of killing his former girlfriend in front of her children. When he escaped, he was awaiting transport to a state prison to begin serving a life sentence.
Another inmate had used the same method in May, and authorities added more razor wire.
“If prison officials receive a credible tip that a certain inmate is planning an escape, that inmate should be placed under the highest level of surveillance,” said Eric Roe, a former state representative running for county commissioner. “From emails uncovered this week, it appears the tip was credible enough for prison officials to remember it a month later when Cavalcante escaped.”
“It’s outrageous to me that even after an escape in the spring, the prison got a credible tip about another planned escape, yet they did not prevent it. This just keeps getting worse!” Roe said.
Dave Sommers, a candidate for Chester County commissioner, said, “I think that the overall ‘working’ climate at the county needs to be changed. Clearly, there are issues in multiple departments existing. The morale is low, and the ability to get applicants is affecting the overall safety and effectiveness of the county.”
“We see here a failure on multiple levels,” said Somers, a teacher. “Those who work directly with the inmates at the prison saw that a potential problem was there, and nothing was done to address their concerns.”
“These issues should have been brought to the Chester County Prison Board and addressed in a timely manner. The lack of leadership and direction caused many of our residents undue stress, anxiety, and also a great burden on our first responders,” said Somers. “Not to mention the extraordinary costs, perhaps up to as much as $15 million, I have heard, for the entire search for the escaped fugitive.”
Sommers added, “I support our correctional facility staff, police, and first responders fully. They, like the residents of Chester County, deserve better.”
Rebecca Brain, a spokeswoman for the county, said jail officials had procedures in place for inmates identified as escape risks prior to Cavalcante’s jailbreak. Also, a new acting warden, Howard Holland, had just started the day of the escape.
“Danilo Cavalcante was initially identified as an escape risk when captured in Virginia and committed to Chester County Prison in 2021. During the time surrounding his trial, unsubstantiated information from an unknown source was received, reinforcing Cavalcante’s status as an escape risk,” said Brain.
She said the county’s policy to address escape risks has changed under Holland’s leadership.
There are “strengthened security measures inside the prison as well as during prisoner transport off prison property. This includes the assignment of different color clothing indicating a potential escape risk and monitoring by one correction officer to one inmate – or two corrections officers to one inmate – when outside of the prison cell.”
These changes “bolster security and support the work of the prison’s staff. The prior policy is indicative of why the Chester County Prison Board felt the need to make changes to the prison’s leadership,” said Brain. The Prison Board includes the three county commissioners, the district attorney, the county controller, and the sheriff.
Roy Kofroth, a businessman and former deputy running for sheriff, disagreed.
“The county prison is a medium security facility,” said Kofroth. “Murderers are sent to maximum security facilities. In this case, Cavalcante was held at the prison awaiting transfer to the state maximum security prison…There should have been one absolute precaution taken, whether they knew of his plans or not: this is an inmate that should never be left unattended when out of his cell.”
“The fact is, he had nothing to lose. He was going to jail forever. Forever is a long time. So escaping was his only chance at being free ever again, which is quite an incentive to do so for anyone in that situation. If anyone in that prison was going to escape, the odds were pretty good this was the guy to do so,” said Kofroth.
“As a side note, there was an escape a few months before this one, and if you review the minutes for every Prison Board meeting after the first escape, guess what is never mentioned? Nothing about the previous prison break, nothing about the improvements to be made to prevent future escapes, and nothing about money spent to make any of those improvements. Nothing. Why?”
As for the cost of the Cavalcante manhunt, each law enforcement agency bears its own expenses.
“With regard to Chester County government, all costs incurred, including overtime for county detectives and personnel in the Department of Emergency Services and Sheriff’s Office, are covered by funds in the county’s budget,” said Brain, who did not respond when asked for the amount the county spent to catch Cavalcante.