Top trooper says prisoner escape was mishandled

Posted: Wednesday, January 12, 2011

ANCHORAGE — The name and photograph of an inmate who escaped from jail should have been released to the public much sooner, the head of Alaska State Troopers said in acknowledging the case was mishandled.

Col. Keith Mallard said the identifying information should have been included with the first press release on the escape of 44-year-old Kent Matte last week. The initial information released included a description of Matte, but that wasn’t enough.

“Just putting out descriptions like that, if we have more, for obvious reasons is problematic,” Mallard said Monday. “There’s several people out there that would have fit the description given in that press release.”

More than six hours passed from the time Matte broke out of the Mat-Su Pretrial Facility in Palmer on Jan. 5 to when his name and photo were released, shortly before his capture was announced. The escape led area schools to lock their doors.

Mallard said the information was released after his office learned it was being withheld.

“It’s not a big deal, easily corrected and something that likely won’t happen again,” he said. He said he knew of no public complaints over the way the information was handled.

Mallard blamed the problem on a communications lapse that occurred in the thick of the manhunt, which involved a lot of people. He said it’s hard to say where the communications breakdown occurred.

“What should have happened, with that press release that we sent out, we have a name and a photo attached with it,” he said. “That’s typically the way we would do that.”

Troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters, who handled media calls during the manhunt, declined to comment on the matter. She referred questions back to Mallard. At the time Matte was being sought, Peters said withholding the name and photo was part of the investigative process.

Matte, who is charged with felony escape, is scheduled for a preliminary hearing next week. A 22-year-old Wasilla woman, Kosha Lynae Jacob, is charged as an accomplice in the escape and with hindering prosecution.

Authorities say Matte opened a hole in the chain-link cage of the jail recreation yard, then scaled a 12-foot perimeter fence, using his coat to shield himself from razor wire. He cut himself in the process.

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