An inmate on trial for murder slipped out of his cell in Los Angeles’s jail and wandered undetected for hours, making his way into the cell holding the chief witness against him and strangling the man in the presence of cellmates, the Los Angeles Times reports. The suspected killer, Santiago Pineda, 20, allegedly ordered witnesses to turn around as he used a ligature to choke Raul Tinajero while the man slept on his cot. Pineda wrote down the names and booking numbers of the others and said he would exact revenge if they talked, said Sheriff Lee Baca.
Tinajero’s body was in the cell four hours before one of the inmates called his attorney, who alerted jailers. “This was complete ineptness, or collusion,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich. “This is a breakdown that has to be corrected immediately.”
A judge in March ordered the Sheriff’s Department to keep Tinajero safe during Pineda’s murder trial. Tinajero, 20, testified last month that he saw Pineda, a neighbor, drive his car over another man last year.
“We didn’t do our job, and I’m using that word inclusively,” said Baca, who is responsible for the custody of 18,000 inmates in the county jail system. “There’s no way to mitigate our responsibility as I see it. We can explain human error and I suspect that’s a part of it.”