Family files claim against Calif. county after escaped murder suspect breaks into home

Tyrone Johnson escaped from the Lerdo Pre-Trial Facility in April and remained on the loose for two months

By Sam Morgen
The Bakersfield Californian
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — A family who says their home was burglarized by an escaped suspected murderer in April has filed a civil claim against Kern County for not adequately operating its detention facility.

According to the claim, on April 28, escaped inmate Tyrone Johnson, who was incarcerated at the Lerdo Pre-Trial Facility while awaiting trial on murder and burglary charges, broke into a Shafter residence and began stealing various items.

The claim says a boy living at the home woke up to the realization the home was being burglarized. The boy, the claim continues, then woke up his father, Benigno Diaz, who got into an altercation with Johnson in front of the home.

Tyrone Johnson was awaiting trial for murdering a three-year-old boy when he escaped.
Tyrone Johnson was awaiting trial for murdering a three-year-old boy when he escaped. (Bakersfield Police Department)

The boy now experiences post-traumatic stress disorder, the claim says, and "lives in fear the escaped inmate will come back to their residence and attack him like the inmate attacked (his father)." He has had difficulty going to sleep and going to school, according to the claim, and has sought out a therapist for PTSD and nightmares.

The family says in the claim it is Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood's responsibility to maintain Lerdo, and he and his staff were negligent in operating the facility.

"But for their negligence, Tyrone Johnson would not have escaped and therefore, he would not have caused harm to the claimants," the claim says.

Under California law, anyone who wishes to sue a government agency must first file a claim. The government then has 45 days to accept or reject the claim. If rejected, the claimant can then go on to file a lawsuit.

The claimant's lawyer Mark Castro and County Counsel did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Sheriff's Office declined to comment.

The claim was filed on Oct. 26.

Johnson is one of two inmates who escaped Lerdo at 1:45 a.m. on April 28. Both Johnson and the other, David Reagan Palms, have been charged with killing three-year-old Major Sutton in late 2017.

According to previous reporting, Johnson and Palms are suspected of kicking in an apartment door in the 800 block of Pershing Street and opening fire. Major was killed and his pregnant mother and five-year-old brother were injured.

Law enforcement believe the motive of the shooting was gang-related. Previous reporting says the mother was living with a suspected member of the West Side Crips while Johnson and Palms are believed to be members of the East Side Crips.

Palms was apprehended the same day as their escape, but Johnson remained on the loose for nearly two months. He was arrested by the Bakersfield Police Department on June 21 after he failed to yield during a traffic stop, attempting to flee before his vehicle collided with another, according to previous reporting.

He was subsequently charged with escaping from jail while charged with a felony, carrying a loaded firearm with a prior felony conviction and more.

A readiness hearing for both Johnson's escape charges and the charges connected to the killing of Major has been set for Tuesday.

(c)2021 The Bakersfield Californian (Bakersfield, Calif.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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