Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said that a suspect's recent escape from a police interrogation room in the Bronx amounted to "gross negligence" on the part of the detectives guarding him. Kelly ordered a review of how people in custody are handled in more than 100 police buildings.
Jose Santiago, a suspect in 16 sexual attacks in New York City, simply walked out of an unlocked first-floor interrogation room of the Special Victims' Squad, past a uniformed officer and into the street. The man, who had been brought in for questioning about the sexual attacks, was left alone in the interrogation room with handcuffs off, the police said.
It was at least the sixth episode of someone's escaping from the authorities this year, five of them in the last six weeks.
The police said that Mr. Santiago, 33, last lived on East 179th Street in the Bronx. They were able to identify him through fingerprints from a table he touched in the interrogation room, one police official said, and the prints matched a record of his arrest from Dec. 8 on a charge of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle.
The two detectives who were questioning him on Monday looked at a photograph of Mr. Santiago taken when he was arrested in December and confirmed that he was the escapee, the police official said. Mr. Santiago had twice been convicted of a crime, the police said. In 1992 he was convicted of third-degree sex abuse, and last year of grand larceny theft, the police said. Mr. Kelly said that the police were awaiting the results of DNA tests of a saliva sample the suspect had provided. The police have matching DNA evidence in all but one of the sexual attacks between March 5, 1997, and Feb. 26 of this year.
In response to the escape, Mr. Kelly said that senior police officials would address patrol officers on every shift in every command around the city on the importance of adhering to the department's policies on securing those in custody.
"I think there were significant lapses there, no question about it, no excuses for it," Mr. Kelly said yesterday at a City Hall news conference. "I've ordered a thorough investigation of the circumstances surrounding that escape."
Mr. Kelly said he had ordered an examination of all police facilities where suspects or prisoners are questioned or kept. And, he said that the two detectives who were guarding the prisoner would be disciplined. The detectives, whom the police declined to identify, will probably lose up to 30 vacation days and could also be transferred from their current assignments, another police official said.