At least one state corrections officer at the Harborfields juvenile detention center in Egg Harbor City did not follow rules about when to open locked cells and when to have backup, Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson said Friday.

That resulted in the escape just after midnight Wednesday by four teenagers, he said. Three were recaptured later Wednesday in Bridgeton, and the fourth, murder suspect Michael Huggins, 18, was recaptured in Atlantic City on Thursday.

“There’s an investigation pending right now with the Prosecutor’s Office. It seems like there was just a breach of protocol,” said Levinson. “(Someone) went against the guidelines, and we’re damned mad about it.”

He said a security video shows what happened in the early hours of Wednesday. He has not seen it, but he said the state and Prosecutor’s Office have.

He said officers are not supposed to open a cell after a certain time, and he believes one of the corrections officers broke protocol by going into a locked area alone, rather than having backup as required by the rules.

“Everything that could go wrong did go wrong here, and we are very upset about it,” Levinson said.

The escapees overpowered a corrections officer and stole a guard’s car, authorities have said. A corrections officer was injured and taken to a hospital. The teens later crashed the car and ditched it ahead of a pursuing police cruiser.

No one from the state Juvenile Justice Commission or the Attorney General’s Office responded by late afternoon Friday to requests to comment as to how the management of the facility will change in light of the escape, or how the results of the investigation into the escape will be released to the public.

Levinson also said state law changed a year ago, keeping teens in juvenile facilities when they turn 18, rather than allowing their move into adult facilities.

“Welcome to New Jersey; the bleeding hearts won again,” he said. “Some states I believe try juveniles for heinous crimes as adults. It’s a difficult thing to do here.”

Because Huggins was 18 when he committed new crimes related to the escape, he is now in the Atlantic County jail, Levinson said.

He said corrections officers at Harborfields are state employees who are trained at the Police Academy in Sea Girt to become juvenile detention officers. They are not armed, nor are officers inside the county jail in Mays Landing, which houses adults. It creates too much of a risk of weapons being taken by inmates, he said.

“It’s a jail with locked cells, it’s just like a jail,” Levinson said of Harborfields. “What are you opening the door for without backup?”

Stephine Woodley, Raymir Lampkin and Donovan Nickerson were identified as the three teens caught in Bridgeton. Their ages, hometowns and alleged crimes were not released. Before their capture, authorities said the escapees were 18, 17 and two 16-year-olds.

Huggins was charged with escape, robbery, assault of a law-enforcement officer and conspiracy, Atlantic County Prosecutor Damon G. Tyner said at a news conference Thursday afternoon. He will be charged as an adult with possession of a handgun, among other charges, pending further investigation.

Huggins previously was charged with murder in the Oct. 7, 2016, killing of Davonte Lee in Bridgeton and was considered dangerous, Cumberland County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae said Wednesday.

Huggins was indicted on the murder charge and a motion was made to transfer him to the county jail, but the motion was denied, Tyner said. He could not elaborate on the details.

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Contact: 609-272-7219 Twitter @MichelleBPost

In my first job after college got paid to read the New York Times and summarize articles for an early online data base. First reporting job was with The Daily Record in Parsippany. I have also worked in nonprofits, and have been with The Press since 1990.

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