Video review: Inmate in wheelchair escapes custody outside courthouse
Never underestimate a documented handicapped inmate
When transporting any prisoner, corrections officers have to be prepared for things to go wrong at a moment's notice – which is exactly what happened last Monday, March 9th outside of the Pulaski County Courthouse in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Inmate Joel Delgado was being escorted in a wheelchair to attend a scheduled court hearing when he made an unexpected run for it and managed to successfully evade custody for several hours. The 41-year-old inmate had told deputies upon his arrest for burglary and firearm possession charges that he was injured and had been taken to a hospital for medical evaluation. At the time of his escape, Delgado had recently been discharged and was in custody with the Pulaski County Jail.
What went Wrong?
As you watch the video, you can clearly see several issues regarding properly securing this inmate during transport, not staying focused on the inmate, and how the inmate used his wheelchair and the courthouse railings to his advantage to escape from custody.
Here is a list of notable issues that will help other officers to not fall into this inmate trap:
- Early on in the video the officer takes his attention off the inmate and points down a sidewalk asking someone to pick up a shoe the inmate said he lost. Did the inmate intentionally lose the shoe to buy some time to make his move? We may never know, but this would be a good question to ask the inmate during questioning for his escape charges.
- As the officer wheels the inmate between the courthouse wall and railings, the inmate uses these barriers to his advantage and jumps out of the wheelchair and runs away. By using these barriers, the inmate knows he can buy a little time to get a head start on the officer. The officer now has a wheelchair in front of him with a wall on the left and rails on the right. The officer has to move around these barriers to get the inmate back into custody. Coincidence or did the inmate buy enough time with the lost shoe to choose his escape point?
- The inmate is clearly not handcuffed or leg shackled, allowing him free movement to get out of the wheelchair and run away. What do your agency's policies and procedures say in regard to restraining and transporting wheelchair inmates? If you are not sure, you need to brush up on your inmate transportation policies and procedures.
- While chasing after the inmate the officer clearly states, “I ain't got my radio,” and then yells to bystanders to call the police. The officer has no way to call in an escape, inmate description or what direction the inmate is headed. What do your agency's policies and procedures say about always having all your duty belt equipment on you at all times while on duty? Again, if you are not sure then brush up on your duty belt and equipment policies and procedures.
This is a very unfortunate incident, but fortunately for everyone involved, the inmate was recaptured a couple of hours later. Pulaski County authorities said they are reviewing the video footage of the escape to find out if the department's inmate transfer procedures need to be changed.
Here is a list of training issues that need to be considered with handicapped inmates during transportation:
- Always handcuff and shackle all inmates during transportation. This video proves exactly why we should restrain all inmates during transport. (Please note there are special policies and procedures for use of restraints on pregnant female inmates. Read them and follow them.)
- Always pay attention to detail at all times with inmates. Transport is one of our weakest links and inmates know this. We have no barriers between we the officers and the inmate’s freedom. Restraints and keeping our heads on a swivel are our most important tools.
- Never underestimate a documented handicapped inmate. Inmates play mind games with the medical department just as they do with officers. Alleged handicapped inmates can get up and run faster than some of our officers as shown in this video. We must take the risk of escape by any inmate at any given moment seriously.
- My agency would even restrain by policy and procedure unresponsive inmates in an ambulance with an officer escort to the hospital. This is something all agencies should consider in the event the inmate is faking a heart attack or another illness.
- Use real-life escape scenarios to train your officers. It is unfortunate for everyone these incidents occur, but we can learn a lot from them.
At the end of the day, it is all about safety and security and everyone going home without incident.
For Gary's full evaluation of the escape, see the following video from his YouTube channel, True Prison Stories with Gary York.