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Second of 2 inmates who escaped New Jersey jail being flown back after capture in Mexico City
Inmates Escape NY12 5124083
This undated photo provided by the Union County, N.J., Prosecutor's Office, shows Otis Blunt, 32, of Toms River, N.J. Authorities in Mexico City on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2008 captured the second of two inmates who made a daring escape last month from a New Jersey jail, a U.S. marshal said. The apprehension of Otis Blunt came less than a day after federal and local authorities captured his accused cohort, Jose Espinosa, in a basement apartment a mile from the jail in Elizabeth. - photo by Associated Press
    NEW YORK — As a captured New Jersey inmate was being returned from Mexico on Thursday, the Rev. Al Sharpton defended his attempts to get the escapee to surrender and said criticism of him was due to a law enforcement ‘‘turf war.’’
    Otis Blunt, awaiting trial for robbery and weapons offenses, was arrested by Mexican Federal Police without incident Wednesday at a ‘‘$10-a-night hotel’’ in Mexico City, New Jersey authorities said.
    Blunt was expected back in New Jersey later Thursday. Since he was declared an undesirable in Mexico, there were no formal extradition proceedings, U.S. Marshal James T. Plousis said.
    He said Sharpton’s visit this week to Mexico City indirectly helped in Blunt’s arrest; he noted it raised public interest and a lot of tips had been generated.
    Sharpton spoke at a news conference Thursday with Brian Major, the longtime friend of Blunt’s whom the escaped prisoner called last Sunday. Major then called Charlie King, the acting executive director of Sharpton’s National Action Network, sparking Sharpton’s involvement.
    Sharpton was criticized by Union County Prosecutor Theodore Romankow for not keeping in touch with his office during the three days leading up to Blunt’s apprehension. But Sharpton said he contacted New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo before going to Mexico City.
    ‘‘I think what is very chilling to me is those who attempt to politicize people doing the right thing,’’ he said Thursday. ‘‘It’s the absurdity of a turf war between those in law enforcement rather than to deal with the immediacy of the situation.
    ‘‘For us to respond to an appeal to surrender and to call the top law enforcement official in New York City is what you want community leaders to do,’’ he continued.
    Blunt was found by marshals and Mexican authorities at a ‘‘$10-a-night hotel,’’ Romankow said. The inmate was in contact with Major, Sharpton and King until Tuesday afternoon and appeared close to surrendering.
    According to Major, Blunt was ready to surrender when he first called last Sunday but may have gotten cold feet when he failed to call back Tuesday afternoon.
    ‘‘This whole thing was based on one principle, of voluntarily surrender,’’ Major said. ‘‘We didn’t try to pursue Otis at all.’’
    A cohort in the daring breakout was also apprehended this week, but he was only a mile from the Union County Jail.
    Authorities revealed it took guards 20 hours to realize the inmates had escaped from the most fortified section of the jail.
    Romankow said Blunt swiped a 10-pound steel valve wheel from a standpipe in an area that should have been locked, and that the inmates used it to bash the cinderblocks between their cells and on an exterior wall. They flushed the debris down the toilet.
    The escape investigation has found no evidence that guards knowingly assisted the prisoners, Romankow said. ‘‘At most we’re looking at negligence by corrections officers,’’ Romankow said.
    The escape was discovered by Corrections Officer Rudolph Zurick, who found a sarcastic note left by the prisoners thanking him for his ‘‘help.’’
    The guard committed suicide at his South Amboy home Jan. 2, the day he was to speak to investigators. Authorities had repeatedly said they had no evidence that Zurick gave any aid.
    Authorities have said the pair used photos of bikini-clad women to hide the holes they dug, a move out of ‘‘The Shawshank Redemption.’’
    Guards first raised an alarm for Espinosa, 20, and Blunt, 32, about 5 p.m. on Dec. 15. The men had piled sheets under their blankets to make it appear they were sleeping.
    Authorities believe the men escaped the night before by squeezing through the openings onto a third-floor rooftop, then leaping over a 25-foot-high fence topped with razor wire.
    New security has been instituted since the breakout, the first since the jail opened in 1986. Head counts, for instance, are now taken with inmates standing.
    Once free, the men fled in separate directions.
    Espinosa, who sprained his ankle, walked north, hailed a cab at the nearby train station, and stayed in a motel before holing up in the apartment, Romankow said.
    Authorities got a tip about Espinosa’s whereabouts and he surrendered without incident. During his capture, a 19-year-old woman was charged with resisting arrest; it was unclear if she would face other charges.

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