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La. inmate escapes after pepper spraying deputy, stealing patrol vehicle

The inmate was being transported back to the correctional center when he created a disturbance in the back of a cruiser; when the deputy checked on him, he pepper sprayed the deputy

By Chad Calder and Faimon A. Roberts III
The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate

NEW ORLEANS — An inmate from the Jefferson Parish Correctional Center escaped custody behind a West Bank hospital and made off in a patrol car after pepper spraying a deputy Sunday evening.

Jefferson Parish Sheriff Joe Lopinto identified the escapee as 51-year-old Leon Ruffin, who is facing charges of second-degree murder, aggravated assault, felon in possession of a firearm and other offenses.

At a press conference Sunday night, Lopinto said Ruffin had been taken to Ochsner Medical Center’s West Bank campus in Terrytown after having a seizure earlier in the day. After treatment, as he was about to be taken back to the lockup, he created a disturbance in the back of a sheriff’s office vehicle.

When a deputy got out of the vehicle to check him, he pepper sprayed her. Lopinto said it is unclear how Ruffin had obtained the pepper spray. The deputy was still in possession of her pepper spray, as well as her stun gun and service weapon, he said.

The deputy fired three shots. Lopinto said it is unknown whether Ruffin was struck. JPSO later said the stolen vehicle was found abandoned in Algiers at about 9:20 p.m.

Lopinto said other law enforcement agencies are involved and that they will be searching all night. He urged anyone who spots Ruffin to call 911.

“Hopefully we can get this guy in custody as quickly as we can,” he said.

The deputy who was pepper sprayed and discharged her weapon was taken to the hospital but is “in good spirits,” Lopinto said.

Ruffin is accused of fatally shooting his longtime friend Gannon Johnson in Avondale last July after Johnson arrived to help jump a dead battery in Ruffin’s car. Ruffin shot Johnson several times in the body and twice in the head, then returned to the scene acting as if he was a grieving friend, prosecutors have said.

Ruffin has a pretrial hearing scheduled for March 7 in 24th Judicial District Court.


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