6 escape juvenile jail, all arrested within hours

1 escapee is charged with armed carjacking for shooting a 59 y.o. man and stealing his car

By Blake Paterson
The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate

BRIDGE CITY, La. — Just weeks after Jefferson Parish officials called on Gov. John Bel Edwards to shut down a juvenile prison in Bridge City following outcry from nearby residents over repeated jailbreaks and other problems, six more prisoners escaped over the weekend, prompting new calls from parish leaders on Monday to shutter the troubled facility.

The six juveniles that escaped from the Bridge City Center for Youth around 2:30 Sunday morning were eventually caught, but not before a crime spree across Jefferson and Orleans parishes.

Five of the escapees were caught around 3.5 hours later after they crashed a stolen vehicle not far from the center. The sixth escapee remained at large until around 5 p.m. Sunday, when he was apprehended after a chase by Louisiana State Police, said Ross Brennan, a State Police public information officer.

Armed carjacking Uptown

Brennan confirmed that the New Orleans Police Department is investigating an armed carjacking allegedly involving that escapee at around 4 p.m. Sunday at Nashville and Loyola avenues in Uptown. The escapee and another suspect, an unknown female, shot a 59-year-old man and stole his vehicle, New Orleans police said.

The victim was in the hospital in critical condition, NOPD said.

State Police apprehended that escapee shortly before 6 p.m. after a car chase and a crash in the 2400 block of St. Bernard Avenue.

Jefferson Parish Council member Deano Bonano said Monday that Edwards and the Office of Juvenile Justice "have blood on their hands."

The Parish Council formally asked Edwards to shutter the site in June, after juveniles there escaped, and then less than 24 hours later, erupted into a riot, overpowering the facility's mostly female staff. That riot required the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office to send in a SWAT team to restore order.

Afterward, Edwards directed State Police and the Department of Public Safety and Corrections to immediately provide additional personnel to assist with chronic staffing shortages at the center.

In a statement at the time, Edwards wrote that the "issues are complex, but chief among them are the lack of employees and the major disrepair of the Bridge City campus."

Neither the Governor's Office nor the Office of Juvenile Justice responded to questions Monday about staffing levels at the facility on Sunday morning when the prisoners escaped, adding to frustrations among parish officials.

Plan for future coming

But Edwards' office issued this statement: "We have been reviewing what happened this past weekend to determine the best path forward for the youth at Bridge City and also for the surrounding community. We will be sharing an update on the steps that have been taken in response to the incident this past Saturday night and a detailed plan for the future of Bridge City tomorrow. The Governor's focus is on ensuring the safety of the youth, the staff and the surrounding community."

Bonano said answers must be forthcoming.

"What's changed? That's my question," Bonano said. "What happened to all those promises."

"If the security was there, what did they do? If it wasn't there, why?" said state Sen. Pat Connick, a Marrero Republican. "Somebody wasn't doing their job."

The latest jailbreak has also renewed calls among nearby residents to close the site. At least 26 inmates have escaped in the last year, Bonano said.

"It really needs to be closed. That many escapes, it's getting really scary," said Mechell Durell, 66, whose mother lives a block away from the center's fence line.

"The governor needs to close it down. Some elderly person is going to get killed, then he's going to step in and do something, and it's too late then," Durell said.

"I feel unsafe, especially when they don't catch them," added Bobby Phoenix, 71, a lifelong resident of Bridge City. "They've got some bad boys back there."

Parish Council member Scott Walker said some residents went on their Sunday morning walks without knowing that prisoners had escaped. He also said the site needs to close.

"Any time beyond now is too late," Walker said. "This place was not built to house violent criminals."

Latest escape

The latest jailbreak began around 2:30 a.m. on Sunday after the group of inmates overpowered a female guard and locked her in a closet, Bonano said.

It's unclear, exactly, how the inmates escaped the facility, though escapees in June fled through a hole in the bathroom ceiling and slipped through a break in the facility's barbed wire fence.

Several hours later, around 6 a.m. Sunday, five of the escapees were apprehended after Jefferson Parish Sheriff's deputies spotted them in a stolen vehicle.

The deputies chased the car and the driver rammed a JPSO cruiser several times and eventually drove into the woods, crashing the car, near the 1200 block of River Road, about eight miles from the Bridge City Center for Youth.

The last of the six escapees who escaped was apprehended later that evening after the State Police chase.

Nicolette D. Gordon, public information director at the Louisiana Office of Juvenile Justice, said the escapee was charged with simple escape, aggravated escape, simple robbery, battery of a correctional facility employee, simple kidnapping and false imprisonment.

Bonano said he has asked the Parish Attorney to look into whether the parish can sue the state to close the site.

Staff writer Missy Wilkinson contributed to this story.


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