A 21-year-old woman helped set up the Philly jailbreak and has been charged, police say
A 21-year-old woman has been charged for helping coordinate the escape of two prisoners from a Philadelphia jail this week, authorities said.
Deputy Police Commissioner Frank Vanore said Xianni Stallings, of North Philadelphia, received a recorded jail phone call from one of the two escapees at some point before the men broke out of the Philadelphia Industrial Correctional Center through a hole in a chain link fence on Sunday.
Vanore declined to specify what the prisoner told Stallings. But he said “it was obvious that she was either assisting or attempting to assist from the outside,” potentially by helping them find a ride after the breakout.
Stallings was arraigned early Thursday morning on charges including conspiracy and hindering apprehension, court records show. Bail was set at $500,000. She was being represented by the Defender Association of Philadelphia, which declined to comment.
The development added a new twist to a situation that has outraged city officials and led to a search for Nasir Grant, 24, who is charged with gun and drug offenses, and Ameen Hurst, 18, who is accused of committing four homicides, U.S. Marshals are continuing to look for them.
Their disappearance from the jail went unnoticed by staff for nearly 19 hours, despite the fact that Prisons Commissioner Blanche Carney said three body counts were performed during that time.
A number of questions remained unanswered Thursday, including how and when the triangle-shaped hole was cut in the fence, and by whom. Vanore said he did not believe Stallings participated in that aspect of the crime. Officials have otherwise remained tight-lipped on investigations into how the breakout happened and why it went undetected for so long.
Several sources briefed on the probes, who requested anonymity to discuss it, have said investigators are exploring the possibility that Hurst and Grant may have been aided in some capacity by staff. It remains unclear whether authorities believe the escape was actively assisted by any employees, or simply enabled by ongoing staffing shortages that have plagued the jails for years.
Carney said in a statement: “We are leaving no stone unturned in order to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
The escape followed more than two years of warnings by prisoners, advocates and union officials of a growing crisis at the city’s jails, where nearly 4,400 people are held. Last week, the union representing officers announced a vote of no confidence in Carney’s leadership, saying the prisons are about 800 officers short, posing a public safety crisis.
Carney, meanwhile, had raised concerns with other city officials for months about the flow of drugs, phones, tools, and other contraband into the jails. And two sources familiar with the ongoing investigations into the breakout said she has told others in the days since that she believes it could have been a so-called “inside job.”
David Robinson, president of Local 159 of AFSCME District Council 33, which represents corrections officers, called the notion of guards helping prisoners break free “absurd.”
“That somebody would help an inmate escape, especially with those charges?” he said. “I couldn’t believe that. I refuse to believe that.”
Long before Hurst escaped on Sunday, investigators had taken a keen interest in his recorded phone conversations with people outside the jail.
Shortly after he was incarcerated in 2021, a law enforcement source said, Hurst proved surprisingly loose-lipped on calls he was making to relatives, seemingly unencumbered while discussing goings-on in the jail, and even the particulars about other crimes.
In court documents, prosecutors said that when Hurst was facing charges for just one murder, he essentially confessed on a recorded line to another: The fatal shooting in 2021 of 20-year-old Rodney Hargrove on State Road, near the front gates of the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility.
“You heard about that State Road s—?” Hurst asked on a call in March 2021, according to court documents. “I thought that was Sid, we got the wrong [person] though.”
Hurst was later charged with killing Hargrove, and his phone conversations are cited in the affidavit of probable cause.
Vanore declined to say if Hurst was the one who called Stallings, and did not specify what message she took from the person she talked to.
It also was not clear how, or if, Hurst and Grant may have known they’d be able to escape undetected Sunday night.
Robinson, the union executive, has said staff shortages should be scrutinized. The unit from which Grant and Hurst broke free, known as “H” Unit — which was designated as one of the most secure units in the entire jail complex — was unstaffed for four hours around the time of the escape Sunday night, he said. And he said two other critical posts outside had been unstaffed for nearly a year.
Carney, the prisons commissioner, has denied that any section of the prison was completely unstaffed, though she acknowledged that how and where employees were Sunday and Monday are part of the ongoing investigations.
‘Unsafe and violent environment’
If the escape was in some way assisted by one or more staff members, it would add to a troubling list of accusations that employees have at times contributed to wrongdoing at the jails, where prisoners and staffers alike have long been experiencing harsh conditions.
Last fall, the District Attorney’s Office charged a correctional officer with taking more than $23,000 in bribes in return for helping an incarcerated man run a criminal enterprise out of the jails — including by letting the prisoner sell drugs within the facility, prosecutors said.
An expert testifying in a federal lawsuit last year concluded the jails were awash in contraband, contributing to an “unsafe and violent environment.”
Amid multiple grand jury probes, the city in 2021 contracted to bring state-of-the-art body scanners, capable of detecting an array of contraband, into the jails. But they have never been used, Robinson said: Staff go through a metal detector and a pat-down instead.
Robinson acknowledged that was due to pushback by union leaders, who had cited concerns over radiation and possible invasion of privacy.
After the escape, the city called in the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections for a security assessment in response to the breakout, Carney said. And each jail facility is expected to remain on lockdown through Friday for “a thorough review of the perimeter and security points,” the city said.
Vanore, meanwhile, said his department remains focused on quickly locating Grant and Hurst.
Authorities ask that anyone with information call 911, the U.S. Marshals Service at (800) 336-0102, or Philadelphia Police at (215) 686-TIPS (8477). Officials were offering a reward of as much as $25,000 for the capture of each man.
“Right now,” Vanore said, “we’re doing everything we can to find those two.”