Authorities Meet With Al Sharpton About New Jersey Inmate Surrender

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A day after the Rev. Al Sharpton said he was asked to arrange the surrender of an escaped inmate, the Union County police chief said he believes the civil rights leader could arrange a peaceful surrender for Otis Blunt.

Officials said Sharpton's office spoke with Union County authorities Monday about a request Sharpton said he received to arrange the surrender of an escaped inmate.

Sharpton issued a statement Sunday night that he had been contacted by people in touch with Blunt, one of two inmates who escaped Dec. 15 from the Union County Jail in Elizabeth.

County Police Chief Daniel Vaniska said his office called Sharpton's staff Monday morning.

"We're just waiting," to see if it can be arranged, Vaniska said midday Monday.

Vaniska said he didn't know who contacted Sharpton on behalf of Blunt, and Sharpton spokeswoman Rachel Noerdlinger said she had no immediate details on who contacted them.

In a statement Sunday night, Sharpton said, "I have been asked by them to help facilitate his safe surrender." He added, "I have contacted law enforcement to see if I can be helpful towards that end."

Blunt, 32, of Toms River, and Jose Espinosa, 20, of Elizabeth, made a daring escape from the jail — the first breakout since the jail opened in 1986.

The prosecutor's office, which is investigating the escape, said the two inmates used photos of bikini-clad women to hide holes they dug through the cinderblock walls of their adjoining cells in a high-security unit. They jumped onto a lower roof, from which they leaped over a 25-foot-high fence topped with razor wire.

The inmates left a cheeky thank-you note that named one of their guards, Rudolph Zurick, who committed suicide Jan. 2, the day he was to speak to investigators about the escape. Zurick, 40, shot himself at his home in South Amboy and had been cooperating with the investigation, his lawyer said. He was buried Monday.

The note, signed with a smiley face, thanked Zurick for helping them, although authorities have said there was no evidence of assistance from Zurick, a guard with a 14-year unblemished record.