• Many questions remain surrounding West Tennessee inmate's escape, employee's death

    By: Kody Leibowitz

    Updated:

    LAUDERDALE COUNTY, Tenn. - Curtis Watson, 44, is still on the run after police said he killed a correctional administrator while escaping.

    Authorities have issued multiple warrants for his arrest, and the reward for information is up to $52,500. 

    RELATED: Woman says Curtis Watson blew kisses at her while mowing prison grass days before escape

    However, many questions still remain surrounding the incident and manhunt. 

    The state prison system classified Watson as a minimum-security offender.

    "Our focus right now is on capturing this individual. Any review of policy or procedure, we will review those after this incident is over with. But I will say he qualified to be at that location," said TDOC commissioner Tony Parker at a press conference Wednesday.

    A TDOC spokesperson said custody designation for inmates is not specific to an offender's charges.


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    Instead, the department looks at the offender's risk and needs assessment, per TDOC, and those assessments are done annually. 

    The spokesperson said the assessments serve as an incentive for inmates to earn additional privileges as they earn lower custody designations.

    RELATED: 'He could be anywhere': TBI says no confirmed sightings of escaped inmate Curtis Watson

    It is unknown at this time when Watson became a minimum-security offender.

    Nearby residents are also wondering why they weren't notified as soon as authorities found out Watson had escaped.

    Charles Seals' house sits just a few miles away from the West Tennessee State Penitentiary, where Watson escaped from.

    "[Law enforcement] just told me that somebody had got away from the prison and lock the doors," said Seals. "They didn't say nobody had died."

    Were neighbors notified of exactly what happened at the prison nearby? Seals said he wasn't. 

    It's just one of the questions unanswered Thursday by state officials. FOX13 Investigates asked a number of questions, not many answered by TBI. 

    Who is Curtis Watson: Escaped inmate accused of killing state employee at West Tennessee prison

    We also wanted to know the timeline of when officials knew Watson went missing to when the government agency notified the public.

    Tennessee Department of Corrections said the prison went on lockdown immediately after Debra Johnson's body was found around 11:30 a.m. and they noticed Watson was missing. 

    It wasn't until 3:07 p.m. that TBI sent out its first alert, a tweet that said, "Blue Alert: We need your help to find Curtis Ray Watson, an escapee of the West Tennessee State Penitentiary in Henning. Watson is also a person-of-interest in the homicide of a Tennessee Department of Correction employee today."

    A post to Facebook by TBI was about 20 minutes after the agency's tweet.

    Later, emergency alerts were sent to cell phones. 

    A TBI spokesperson did not answer when the first alert was sent, but a FOX13 reporter received the Blue Alert at 3:51 p.m. 

    When asked why it took hours to notify the public about an escaped prisoner accused of murder, a spokesperson said what was said at the briefing was all TBI was releasing.

    READ MORE ON THE STORY: Woman dead after inmate escapes Tennessee state prison; TBI investigating

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