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Fla. Prison Guards To Be Armed

July 1, 2000

STUART, Fla. (AP) _ Guards who stood by helplessly last month as a helicopter plucked a sex offender from a state facility during a daring escape will now be armed.

State investigators released a report Friday that concluded the removal of razor wire from an interior fence, inadequate staff supervision and unarmed perimeter guards at the Martin Treatment Center made possible the June 5 midday escape of sex offender Steven Whitsett.

One employee reportedly was supervising 40 sexual predators on the recreation yard at the time of the escape, investigators said.

Whitsett, 28, scaled the fence and ran to the helicopter piloted by his longtime friend, Clifford Burkhart, 23, he later told officials. The helicopter crash landed about 100 yards from the center and both men were captured the next day.

Guns will not necessarily prevent future escapes, officials said.

``The guards will be given side arms to use only for self-defense,″ said Greg Venz, director of the state’s sexually violent predator program, which confines sex offenders after their prison terms expire. ``They will not be allowed to use lethal force to stop an escape.″

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