Police seek convicts who escaped custody
AP: Correctional officers didn’t realize Cruz and Clah were missing until about 1 a.m. Thursday
FARMINGTON — Two violent convicts are the subject of a statewide manhunt after they escaped from custody on Wednesday night while being transported between prisons in Roswell and Las Cruces.
The men — Lionel Clah, 29, and Joseph Cruz, 32 — appeared Thursday morning in surveillance camera footage in Albuquerque, at least 200 miles north of where corrections officers reported last seeing them, according to New Mexico State Police.
Clah was serving a 30-year prison sentence for his 2009 conviction in the shooting of Sgt. Korey Faulk of the San Juan County Sheriff's Office during a high-speed chase. Cruz has been convicted of first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder and child abuse in the slaying of a Raton man in 2006. He was serving a life sentence.
State police released surveillance video photos on Thursday afternoon that showed Cruz and Clah dressed in jeans and jackets earlier that morning in Albuquerque.
The men were last seen at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday near Artesia wearing white prison jumpsuits and shackles, according to state police. They were being transported, along with three other prisoners, The Associated Press reported on Thursday.
Correctional officers didn’t realize Cruz and Clah were missing until about 1 a.m. Thursday, according to the AP. The public was alerted about the escapes when a press release was issued just after 4:30 a.m. Thursday.
New Mexico Department of Corrections Secretary Gregg Marcantel told the AP on Thursday that he could not say for certain where the men made their escape.
Neither of the corrections officers performing the transport checked on the prisoners during two stops over a stretch of 200 miles, Marcantel told the AP.
“In almost every case that you have a set of circumstances like this, it is not a matter of a lack of policies, a lack of systems, a lack of structure,” Marcantel said to the AP. “It’s a matter of somehow or another we failed in that structure.”
San Juan County Sheriff Ken Christesen said he would "absolutely" consider Clah armed and dangerous, and he urged anyone with information about his whereabouts to contact authorities.
"I'd like the public to be aware he is very dangerous and they need to be on the alert," he said.
Clah was arrested after a police chase in May 2007 that began in Bloomfield, according to Daily Times archives. When police tried to stop his vehicle at a laundromat, Clah fled from several law enforcement officers to the Bluffview Housing Community, located near the NAPI headquarters south of Farmington, according to archives.
Faulk and another deputy rammed Clah's vehicle at the housing community, and Clah responded by firing eight rounds through the windshield of Faulk's patrol car, according to court records.
Faulk returned fire and shot Clah several times, records state. Clah was then taken into custody.
Court records state Clah later said during a recorded phone call at the San Juan County Adult Detention Center: "If I see a cop, I'll shoot his a--."
Christesen said Faulk was not seriously injured in the shooting.
"He just got (shrapnel) metal in his nose and face," Christesen said.
Christesen said Faulk has left the sheriff's office to work in the private sector.
Clah was charged in state court with more than a dozen felony offenses in connection to the chase.
The sheriff's office increased security during Clah's preliminary examination hearing to ensure safety within the courtroom, according to Daily Times archives. Clah was transported to court hearings by sheriff's office deputies — not jail guards — due to concerns about potential violent outbursts, Daily Times archives state.
In April 2009, Clah entered a plea of no contest to three counts of assault with intent to commit a violent felony upon a peace officer.
A 16-year-old accomplice, Krishana John, was also taken into custody and pleaded guilty to shooting at officers during the incident, according to Daily Times archives. She was sentenced to the custody of state juvenile services for three years.
Clah is described as 5 feet 11 inches tall and 175 pounds with brown eyes and black hair, according to state police. He has a multiple tattoos, including a tattoo on his neck that reads "Shiprock Native."
Cruz is described as 5 feet 5 inches and 165 pounds with brown eyes and brown hair. He also has various tattoos, including one on the back of his neck that says "alias."
Cruz and three other men were convicted of beating and stabbing Billy Chavez to death in Raton in January 2006, according to an Albuquerque Journal article. The men also attacked Chavez's girlfriend, Erica Martinez, the article states.
Police are urging all residents in the Albuquerque area to use caution and lock all doors. No residents should at any time pick up hitchhikers, according to police.
Anyone with information should contact the Albuquerque New Mexico State Police office at 505-841-9256, option 3, or call 911.
Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644.
Daily Times reporter Hannah Grover contributed to this story.