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Public Statements

CNN "Newsroom" - Transcript

Interview

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Texas State Senator John Whitmire is outraged and calling for a complete shake-up of the criminal justice system. He joins me live from Austin.

You know, Senator, even before his escape, where he used the wheelchair to pin his wife up against the wall and stab her 17 times, actually stabbing somebody else, as well, who was trying to save her, where was the security in this prison?

SEN. JOHN WHITMIRE, TEXAS STATE SENATE: That's an excellent question. There's no speculation about how dangerous this individual is. He has an extensive record. Ten years ago he stabbed his wife with a prison-made knife. I'll also point out two years ago there was some question whether he needed to be confined to a wheelchair.

So there's been a series of human errors and lax security dealing with this individual.

And, of course, what you have to worry about, is this just one instance? I notice that two of the three examples you mentioned with security breaches were in the state of Texas, and that's the reason I'm upset, and that's the reason we have to have changes made from the top to the bottom. It has to be zero tolerance when you're dealing with security risks.

PHILLIPS: All right. We'll get to those changes in just a minute, because I know you're pushing heavily for that right now. But, you know, you brought up an interesting point about the fact that he was in this wheelchair, and how do we even know he should have been in that wheelchair? How often are those prisoners checked for medical conditions?

WHITMIRE: Well, unfortunately, in asking questions of our system, the corrections officers system is blaming the medical technicians. The medical people are blaming the corrections side of it. I'm blaming whoever. There has to be accountability. You just can't gamble with these dangerous individuals.

The people of Texas, the people of this country, deserve better, and we're going to demand that changes be made from the top to the bottom, or in Texas we need a security audit. We have 112 prisons.

This individual came out of one of our most secure and one of the more secure parts of that secure prison, the Ag Sec. He's been isolated from other inmates he's so dangerous. And then they get ready to transport him and they do not even pat him down. And then we see the results.

PHILLIPS: And you're on the criminal justice committee there...

WHITMIRE: I chair it, and we've been talking about this for over a year. I received a phone call from Death Row last October. So, we've focused on cell phones entering prisons, but I've repeatedly said all contraband, narcotics, cigarettes and, of course, weapons. If this episode did not happen, there would today be a loaded pistol in one of our more secure prisons.

PHILLIPS: What does the Texas Department of Corrections say to you? And how is it going to change things?

WHITMIRE: I'm of the opinion that, if they get through one crisis and then they go back to business as usual. The state leadership, the governor, the legislative leadership, has to demand better, and call for accountability and a shake-up of those who cannot get the job done.

PHILIPS: This shocked me even more. We actually heard from Comeaux's mother. She's quoted as saying, "How did my son come in contact with a gun inside the prison? I know he didn't leave and go shopping. I'm looking at a corrupt system here."

I mean, this is more than a guy just fooling guards, overcoming guards and escaping. This is a tremendous breakdown in the system. I mean, this guy has been in and out of jail, paroled, been on supervision, but he's committing crimes against children. I mean, why is this guy even out on the streets?

WHITMIRE: Well, it's not even this individual. It's all inmates. I know that you can secure a prison. We secure airports, courthouses, city halls, schools. All you got to do is have the will, place the resources at the front and the back of the prison. You use metal detectors; you use surveillance cameras. You have layer upon layer of accountability. You pat everyone down. Our prison system recently went to just random pats of employees going and coming from work. That's unacceptable. Look what we're having to deal with. We shouldn't be having this conversation, quite frankly.

And if the prison administrators can't get the job done, we need to find someone who can. Because today, obviously, the focus is apprehending this most dangerous, armed inmate. He's been in the free world all week. And he belongs in our most secure prison.

I think it's -- I think he pulled a complete sham. It's been planned, apparently. He knew to fake his illness. He knew he wouldn't be patted down. He knew he didn't need to be in a wheelchair, but the bottom line is the weapons should have never, ever been in the prison. And not only just weapons: narcotics, cigarettes, for certain cell phones. We've got to do better, zero tolerance...

PHILLIPS: Well, we're looking...

WHITMIRE: ... and mean it. And mean it.

PHILLIPS: And we're looking to you to put up that fight.

Before we let you go, we're going to take one more picture at Comeaux here. Authorities say he is on the lam and need your help desperately to find him. If you have any information leading to where he might be, you are asked to please contact authorities.

WHITMIRE: I might add there's a $30,000 reward, and hopefully someone will come forward.

PHILLIPS: There you go.

WHITMIRE: The focus has to be on capturing this dangerous person.

PHILLIPS: State Senator John Whitmire, we look to you to make changes in that state. Thank you for your time, sir.

WHITMIRE: Thank you.

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