View from the Tower

View from the Tower: Kevin Cooper


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Kevin Cooper listens during his preliminary November 1983 hearing in Ontario where he stood accused of murders in Chino Hills in June of 1983. (Inland Valley Daily Bulletin staff file photo)

We’ve all heard the story about Kevin Cooper (AKA David Troutman). He’s the convicted killer who escaped from the California Institution for Men (CIM) State Prison in Chino, California only to break into a home in Chino Hills, and kill five people. Chino Hills was then a small community about three miles from the prison. I worked at CIM then and here’s the real story behind his escape.


Cooper was an escapee for a Pennsylvania mental facility. His crimes there were non-violent property crimes (burglary). He fled to California where he was arrested and convicted for burglary. He received a 4-year sentence. He changed his name to Troutman which oddly escaped notice by the police and California Department of Corrections (CDC).


California State Men’s Prison at Chino (CIM)


He sat in county jail for a while before he arrived by bus to CIM June of 1983. Back then, all non-violent offenders were housed in the minimum-security yard. This was the original 1941 honor ranch facility envisioned by Mr. Kenyon Scudder in the 1940’s as a “prison without walls,” or an honor ranch with bars. It was part of his plan to rehabilitate criminals through hard work, sunshine, and humane treatment. Didn’t work then, or now. Cooper was sent from our Maximum Security building to Minimum Security solely based on the paperwork designating him as a simple thief. It was a common practice.


The Minimum yard consisted of large concrete dormitories, some of which had cells, but most didn’t. It had no guard towers but did have a three-foot-high barbed wire cattle fence perimeter. That’s it. The facility used to keep a decent herd of dairy cows which provided fresh milk to CIM and other facilities. Hence the barbed wire fence. Not exactly except-proof, but a boon for David Troutman/Kevin Cooper.

He was there exactly one night.

When the fog rolled in (which got very thick there), he rolled out! He just stepped over the fence to freedom.

CIM was surrounded by over 2,000 acres of prime farmland (much of which was sold to developers for housing just before I left in 2007). When Cooper left, southern Chino was mostly an agricultural area with corn fields everywhere. Easy place to hide. A lumber mill sat just up the road. Nor were there many street lights to contend with.


June 9, 2003 at the West End Substation to identify suspect in. Chino Hills murders as Kevin Cooper. (Walter Richard Weis / Staff Photographer)

In the darkness of southern Chino, Cooper hid in the lumber mill. Then he made his way to Chino Hills where he committed those ghastly and brutal murders. As soon as he was missed at the next head count, we set out to find him. Mutual assistance was provided by San Bernardino County Sheriff’s and the City of Chino Police. We all wanted this guy who we thought was escaped burglar David Troutman.


After he was arrested in Northern California, his real identity was discovered.

Midge Carroll was the interim Warden who had been assigned to CIM to look into staff corruption. She got the heat for Cooper’s escape. She didn’t deserve it, frankly. Wrong place at the wrong time.

Of course, the state looked for someone to lynch besides our warden. So, they summoned the entire Records staff into the San Bernardino Grand Jury. Nothing came of theat. Records merely followed established protocol.

prison towerAs a result of this, things changed: to this day, all inmates are sent to maximum security until such time as their background paperwork is received into Records for review. Also, a 12-foot-high chain link fence with razor wire surrounds the Minimum yard, and armed gun towers were installed.

Although the fence remains, all the gun towers except sally port towers have been deactivated due to electrified fence installations throughout CIM. It is much more efficient and a whole lot cheaper. The only bad result is the matter of discretion was removed when the fences went up. Before an officer could either wound an escapee (leg shot, etc.) or head shot. It was the officer’s call.

The fence just kills. I never liked that.

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