By Polly Keary, Editor
It was 9 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 7, and officers at the Monroe Correctional Center’s minimum security unit were doing the last count of the day. They came up one short.
That started a chain of events involving the prison, multiple law enforcement agencies, and finally a citizen tip, that resulted in the capture of escaped prisoner Brandon Musto.
“Once Musto was identified missing, we began immediate response procedures,” said Susan Biller, spokesperson at the prison.
Immediately, officers made “escape flyers,” and handed them out in the community, with a picture of Musto, also known as Brandon Merrill, and a physical description. They also notified the Monroe Police Department, which took the lead on the investigation.
Musto, 37, seemed like an odd candidate for escape. Although he’d done a considerable amount of time in his life, adding up to about 10 years, he’d only entered prison on his most recent convictions in September of last year and was scheduled for release on Valentine’s Day.
His mother, who lives in Grays Harbor, told police that he’d had no infractions while in prison, and said she had no idea why he would escape.
That might be because he hadn’t talked to her much. As police opened Musto’s phone and visit records that night, they found that Musto had only called and visited one person the entire time he was there, a 59-year-old man named Rupert Soriano of McCleary. Calls from the prison are monitored, and officers had described some of their conversations as “cryptic.”
Police quickly got permission to “ping” Soriano’s cell phone for its location at the time of the escape, and found it had been in Monroe.
A scan of the perimeter of the prison revealed footprints along the outside of the fence, and scraps of cloth caught in the coils of razor wire topping the fence. A review of the cameras covering that location confirmed that Musto had fled over the north fence at about 7 p.m. It seemed he had then escaped with the help of an accomplice.
The prison visit logs gave police Soriano’s McCleary’s address, and the following day, they found him there. He denied knowing anything about the escape, but a search of his car revealed blood on both the outside and the inside of the vehicle, as well as some clothing inside.
Monroe police officers drove to the Grays Harbor County Sheriff’s Office and interviewed the suspect, and Soriano changed his story. According to police, he confessed that he and Musto and planned the escape over the course of several visits. Upon Musto’s escape, Soriano had picked him up and driven him to Exit 38 on Highway 90, in the North Bend area, and dropped him off.
The King County Sheriff’s Department then got involved, launching a search of the North Bend area and alerting citizens about the escape. The search was fruitless, and by the 10th, officers worried that the man may have left the area in another car.
But then Sunday, Nov. 11, police got a break.
A North Bend man called 911 and said he thought he’d just encountered the fugitive. He said that, that afternoon, a man had approached him at the Rattlesnake Ridge Trailhead and asked to borrow his cell phone to call his mother. When another car entered the area, the man fled.
By 4:30 p.m. detectives confirmed that the number he’d called belonged to Musto’s mother. Monroe police officers joined King County officers and put together a team including police dogs and began a search of the area. At about 7 p.m., a dog picked up the man’s scent and flushed him out, and the man fled. The dog attacked, and the man was captured.
He was treated for dog bite wounds and is now in the Snohomish County Jail awaiting new charges.
“They ended up getting him from all of us working together,” said Biller. “That’s typical. We work hand-in-hand.”
They still don’t know why the man fled with only three months to go, Billers said. But more details will emerge in coming months. After any major incident at the prison, there is a lengthy internal review process, and it will likely be complete in January.