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Impersonating inmate tricked jail officers into mistaken release

Ryan Griffin, 36. (New Mexico State Police)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — When Sandoval County Detention Center inmate James Fisher was napping during his scheduled release time, his bunk-mate took advantage.

Ryan Griffin, 36, stole Fisher’s jail-issued identification card and shaved his head in order to pretend to be him as inmates were being released around 1 p.m. Wednesday, according to court records. Once released, Griffin fled to a nearby Walmart and shaved his facial hair.

Jail officials realized the mistake around 1:30 p.m. when Fisher woke up and asked if he could be released.

Three officers are facing discipline for not following proper release procedures, according to Warden Matthew Elwell. One of them didn’t ask Griffin any personal questions to verify his identity — a required part of the process. Before the escape, the officer had already announced his resignation for next week. Elwell on Thursday made it immediate.

After the escape, law enforcement officers launched a massive manhunt, and early Thursday morning they tracked Griffin to a home in northwest Albuquerque near 98th and Ladera where he was arrested.

Griffin had drugs and stolen property on him when he was arrested, according to Lt. Keith Elder of the Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office. He has been booked back into jail and is facing new charges for the escape.

Elder said investigators believe Griffin likely had help getting from Bernalillo to Albuquerque, and they are looking into who may have helped him and if that person will face charges.

Griffin is a convicted felon with a lengthy criminal history dating back to 2003.

And Wednesday’s escapade isn’t the first time Griffin has broken out of jail. Taos County Sheriff’s Office reports show he managed to slip out of his handcuffs and escape out the back of a prisoner transport van in September 2008. He was recaptured on top of a nearby restaurant.

But he was apparently still determined to escape. Three days later, a Taos County Detention Center officer walking outside heard loud pounding coming from the building. When they searched the cells they found a hole in the wall, and then watched surveillance footage showing Griffin making the hole with a large piece of metal from the showers area, according to a TCSO report.

Griffin had recently been booked into the Sandoval County Detention Center for numerous charges of credit card fraud and vehicle burglary, according to online court records. He’s also facing drug charges in Bernalillo County and other charges from Colorado.

This is the second time in a few months that an inmate has escaped from the Sandoval County jail.

After the last escape, officers were ordered to go through refresher training and two officers were disciplined.