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Wife of La. jail escapee arrested, accused of helping him avoid police

After escaping by pepper-spraying a deputy and stealing a cruiser, the recaptured inmate also faces new charges, including attempting to smuggle cigarettes and a lighter into jail

Michelle Hunter
The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate

Feb. 28—The wife of Leon Ruffin, the Jefferson Parish murder suspect accused of escaping jail custody by pepper spraying a deputy, was arrested Tuesday on charges that she aided her husband’s brazen getaway, according to authorities.

Ruffin also picked up several new charges, including a count of trying to smuggle cigarettes and lighter into the jail, following his recapture, by hiding the items in his rectum, the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office said.

Shelita Ruffin, 52, of Westwego, was booked with conspiracy to commit aggravated escape and conspiracy to introduce contraband center, sheriff’s spokesperson Sgt. Brandon Veal said.

Shelita Ruffin was being held without bail Wednesday at the Jefferson Parish Correctional Center, the same Gretna facility where Leon Ruffin, 51, had been awaiting trial for second-degree murder.

Leon Ruffin, who was found hiding at a hotel in New Orleans East on Tuesday afternoon, was booked back into the jail with aggravated escape, battery of a police officer with injury, motor vehicle theft, conspiracy to introduce contraband into the correctional facility and possession of contraband in the facility, Veal said.

The sheriff’s office did not disclose any details about how Shelita Ruffin allegedly helped in her husband’s escape or why she was booked in connection with the contraband conspiracy charge.

There was also no new information Wednesday about how Leon Ruffin may have obtained the pepper spray he used to attack the deputy.

Escape at hospital

Leon Ruffin had been held at the Gretna jail since his July 21 arrest in the Avondale shooting death of longtime friend Gannon Johnson, 53. Ruffin reportedly suffered a seizure Sunday afternoon and was taken to Ochsner Medical Center West Bank, authorities said.

Ruffin wasn’t handcuffed or shackled during the trip because he was wearing an orthopedic boot and an arm sling. But Jefferson Parish Sheriff Joseph Lopinto has said he suspects Ruffin was faking the injuries.

“I think that’s a ruse,” the sheriff has said. “Unfortunately, he gamed the system in order to be able to take advantage of the situation.”

While in the back seat of the patrol vehicle, Leon Ruffin created a disturbance that caused the deputy to stop and check on him, authorities said. When she opened the back door, Ruffin pepper sprayed her and then shuffled around the vehicle to the driver’s seat, driving away with her marked patrol unit, Lopinto said.

The deputy fired three shots at Leon Ruffin, but he was not injured, authorities said. The patrol unit was recovered later that night in Algiers .

Hidden cigarettes

More than 200 law enforcement officers from several local, state and federal agencies worked together to track Leon Ruffin during his two-day escape, according to the sheriff’s office.

He was discovered in a room at the Trident Inn , 12340 Interstate 10 Service Road , in New Orleans East about 12:15 p.m. , according to the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office . Leon Ruffin was arrested by Orleans Sheriff’s Office detectives and members of the Major Crimes Task Force , a local inter-agency team, and taken to the Orleans Parish Justice Center before being transferred back to Jefferson Parish .

But once inside the Jefferson Parish Correctional Center , officers performing a search determined that Leon Ruffin had “a pack of cigarettes and a combustible lighter in his anus,” according to a jail report.

No bail has set for Leon Ruffin’s new charges.

Return to crime scene

Shelita Ruffin, though not named, was mentioned by the homicide detective who testified during a probable cause hearing in Leon Ruffin’s murder case.

Leon Ruffin is accused of shooting his longtime friend Gannon Johnson after Johnson provided a jump-start outside of his Avondale home on the night of July 9 , authorities said. Ruffin shot Johnson multiple times and fired another round at a witness who peeked out of the front door before driving away, the sheriff’s office said.

Ruffin reportedly returned to his own home, picked up Shelita Ruffin and then returned to the crime scene posing as a concerned and grieving friend, the sheriff’s office said.

Leon Ruffin was arrested about two weeks later and pleaded not guilty to the charges related to the homicide. Shelita Ruffin was not charged in connection with the murder case.


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