Four Department of Public Safety employees should be disciplined and security protocols strengthened after two trusties escaped in March, the State Police announced Tuesday after completing a series of investigations.
State Police launched internal investigations to determine how Ricky Wedgeworth and Darian Pierce fled the agency’s headquarters while on work detail March 4.
Two parallel investigations looked into whether the men were assisted in their escape and reviewed the State Police Trusty Program’s policies and procedures, Superintendent Col. Mike Edmonson said.
Wedgeworth and Pierce escaped in a DPS van, then carjacked and killed David Cupps, an Ohio businessman, in Vicksburg, Miss., before being captured March 14 in Memphis, Tenn., authorities have said.
A criminal investigation into the incident showed the trusties did not receive help in their escape from either their families and friends or from employees within the State Police, Edmonson said.
A series of missteps by DPS employees allowed Wedgeworth and Pierce to escape — with three hours passing before officials were notified the men were unaccounted for, Edmonson said.
Pierce and Wedgeworth were working maintenance on the grounds when they were sent to a nearby building to help move lockers, Edmonson said.
Two civilian DPS supervisors at the maintenance location did not alert the supervisors in the building that the men were moving there, Edmonson said.
Pierce and Wedgeworth worked briefly inside the building before leaving and fleeing the grounds, Edmonson said.
The two supervisors will be given letters of reprimand, Edmonson said.
The names of the disciplined employees were not released because the reprimands are still under review and not yet finalized, Edmonson said.
Edmonson said a DPS lieutenant, in charge of driving the trusties between State Police headquarters and the barracks in Zachary, noticed the men were not on their assigned bus, but still left the grounds.
Trusties sometimes worked past their scheduled time and were allowed to ride back to the barracks on the second bus as long as they were accounted for before the first bus left, Edmonson said.
The lieutenant did not try to locate Pierce and Wedgeworth when they did not appear on the first bus, Edmonson said.
The lieutenant returned to pick up the last load of workers and could not account for Pierce and Wedgeworth but still did not alert anyone, thinking he may have overlooked the men on the first bus, Edmonson said.
“When he returned to the barracks and did a final check, he realized the men were gone,” Edmonson said. “At this point, they’ve had three hours to run.”
The lieutenant is in the process of being demoted, Edmonson said.
A DPS officer who was told by the lieutenant that the trusties were not accounted for on the first bus but also did not alert anyone, was suspended without pay for 24 hours, Edmonson said.
The internal investigations were conducted by members of several departments within State Police, who made the recommendations for discipline and changes to policies and procedures, Edmonson said.
Edmonson then approved the recommendations. He said he’s comfortable with the reprimands, which are “severe enough to make a difference.”
“I sat down with these officers, and they’re good officers, they just made a poor decision,” Edmonson said. “And the worst thing that could happen happened — somebody died.”
State Police instituted a number of changes immediately after the trusties escaped, including doubling the number of times trusties are checked during their workday and instituting random, emergency checks.
The number of men in the trusty program was reduced from 174 to 166, and that number will continue to drop by attrition until it reaches about 150, Edmonson said.
Security was tightened at the State Police barracks that houses the trusties, with some privileges revoked and more checks added, Edmonson said.
And a stronger emphasis was placed on training and reminding employees of the policies and procedures in place, he said.
“Every day, as we have painstakingly investigated the circumstances surrounding this escape — criminally, administratively and procedurally —David Cupps and his family were in the forefront of our minds,” Edmonson said.
“It is my responsibility to ensure that we have procedures in place to prevent this from ever happening again. This is a responsibility I do not take lightly,” he said.
Wedgeworth and Pierce are being held in solitary confinement in Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola while awaiting murder charges to be filed, Edmonson said.