BROWNSVILLE, Texas – One of the five illegal immigrants who escaped from a privately run South Texas jail along with a former police officer surrendered to federal agents at a border checkpoint, officials said Monday.
Joel Armando Mata-Castro, a 31-year-old Mexican citizen, walked up to the checkpoint Sunday night and identified himself to Customs and Border Protection Officers, CBP spokesman Felix Garza said.
"As I understand it, there were no problems," Garza said. "He was cooperative."
Mata-Castro made an initial court appearance Monday on an escape charge and will remain in federal custody, said John Yembrick, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Houston.
So far, Mata-Castro is the only inmate captured since the escape from the East Hidalgo Detention Center in La Villa on Sept. 19. The group apparently overpowered a guard with a homemade knife. Authorities have said they suspected the men had crossed the border, about 20 miles away, into Mexico.
The five illegal immigrants are suspected members of the violent drug gang Raza Unida. Former McAllen police officer Francisco Meza-Rojas was two weeks away from trial on federal drug-trafficking charges that could bring a 40-year prison sentence if he is convicted.
The co-owner of LCS Corrections Services Inc., which operates the jail, said he hoped the surrender would lead to capture of the others.
"It's our understanding that they are someplace in Mexico on a ranch," said Richard Harbison. "This would certainly be the beginning of getting them all back."
After the escape, an emergency state inspection cited LCS for employing too few guards, adding an unauthorized number of bunks and keeping unlicensed guards on the payroll.
The Lafayette, La.-based company was ordered to take corrective measures but was not penalized, and LCS has said the problems have been fixed.
The guard who was overpowered was fired, the prison's chief of security was demoted, and all employees were given lie detector tests. The company also installed a new outer fence, a new alarm system, and a metal detector for entering and exiting staff. It is in the process of putting in new outside lights and cameras.