Middleboro residents want to know why they weren’t notified of Bridgewater prison break

Alice C. Elwell

Last Friday’s prison break highlighted several glitches with the way the facility alerts nearby residents about an escaped prisoner.

In particular, a flood of complaints from residents in northern Middleboro, which borders MCI Bridgewater, were received by county and local authorities in recent days asking why they were not notified of the escape through a reverse 911 call.

John Birtwell, spokesman for the Plymouth County Sheriff’s Department, said the department has received a number of complaints about the notification process. Middleboro Police Chief Bruce D. Gates also said he’s received complaints.

On Monday, convicted rapist Manson Brown was still on the loose after walking out of a gate at the prison on Friday night. Brown, 51, was convicted in 2005 of home invasion and armed robbery and was serving a 10-year sentence. He had just been indicted, based on DNA evidence, on new charges stemming from a 1996 home invasion and rape in Cambridge.

According to Cara Savelli, spokesperson for DOC, the Department of Corrections uses an emergency call list with about 600 names on it, as well as an escape horn, to notify residents. Savelli said people must sign up to be on the list, and should contact their local police or selectmen to do so.

But the message that the vast majority of people heard came from the town of Bridgewater. Bridgewater Fire Chief George Rogers, the head of that town’s Emergency Operations Center, said he, the Bridgewater police chief and the chairman of the Board of Selectmen all agreed to use the town’s reverse 911 system to alert residents when they heard about the incident.

“We wanted to notify as many people, as soon as possible, so they could lock their doors, turn on lights, make sure their kids were safe and sound, and sleep with one eye opened,” Rogers said.

He said that currently, the protocol at Bridgewater’s Emergency Operations Center does not include notifying Middleboro residents of a prison break, but Rogers said Middleboro residents can be accommodated in the future.

“It’s going to be fixed,” promised Rogers who has already had a preliminary meeting with DOC and plans to have follow-up meetings addressing the communication issue and the town’s concerns. “Our first priority is to keep our residents — and our neighbors in the town of Middleboro — safe and sound.”

Birtwell, the sheriff’s spokesman, said about 15,000 Bridgewater residents were notified via a computerized message.

Savelli, from the DOC, said the recent escape could prove to be a catalyst to improve communications. She said the department will consider using the reverse 911 system at the sheriff’s department.

Sarah Jigerjian, who lives a little over a mile from the prison in Middleboro, said she didn’t hear about the break until Saturday morning when a customer visited her Middleboro gift shop. Over the years she’s had escapees hide out in her backyard.

“We should have been called,” she said. Jigerjian said she didn’t hear the prison’s siren Friday night, although her home is close to the prison. “If we got a call, we would have been on the lookout.”

Gates said his department was notified of the break, but residents were out of the loop and he will make sure it doesn’t happen again. Gates acknowledges the reverse 911 system is relatively new, but says the Department of Correction should include Middleboro residents on a notification list.

“One way or another, the citizens need to be notified,” Gates said. “If it’s not in their [DOC] protocol, we’ll do it.”

Middleboro resident Michael Solimini said the DOC dropped the ball but praised Middleboro police for keeping a high profile in his neighborhood in the north side of town since the break.

“Chief Gates sent out patrol cars, and set up a check point at the north Middleboro fire station. He was very proactive,” he said. “I’m glad to see our own police chief is on his game.”

The Enterprise