Peanut butter, human error leads to escapes

Posted 8/1/17

Daily Mountain Eagle

Walker County Sheriff Jim Underwood said peanut butter and human error was used to hide part of a jail cell number in order for 12 Walker County Jail inmates to confuse a young guard and make a stunning jail escape Sunday …

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Peanut butter, human error leads to escapes


Daily Mountain Eagle

Walker County Sheriff Jim Underwood said peanut butter and human error was used to hide part of a jail cell number in order for 12 Walker County Jail inmates to confuse a young guard and make a stunning jail escape Sunday night.

It was peanut butter that was spread out over web news headlines on Monday, as state media seemed incredulous during the press conference that a food that is served at the jail could lead to a dozen escapes. Reporters were seen after the press conference reconfirming the facts so they could explain it to their editors.

A search for “peanut butter” on Google early Monday evening instantly turned up highlighted headlines about the incident on sites such as Fox News and CBS News, the latter of which headlined, “Sheriff: 12 escaped Alabama inmates used peanut butter to fool guard.”

Underwood said Monday in an afternoon press conference that 11 of the 12 had been recaptured overnight, with Brady Andrew Kilpatrick, 24, Cordova, still at large. He was in jail for possession of controlled substance, possession of drug paraphernalia, and second-degree possession of marijuana.

The 12 “went out the back door and over the back fence,” he said. “These 12 inmates, all but two of them, were what I would say were petty criminals, thieves and drug possession.”

Two of them, Steven Blake Lamb, 28, Quinton, and Christopher Micheal Smith, 19, Jasper, were being held for attempted murder, he noted.

“The escape was noticed by one of the jail employees at about 6:30 (p.m.). They were gone approximately an hour before we were notified, before it was discovered,” Underwood said. “We locked the jail down here and had to count heads to see who exactly was missing before we could inform anybody as to who we were looking for. We determined it was 12 inmates who went out.” 

The bed count was why it took a while for the hunt to be organized, he said. Once that was determined, the search started, while his department and Jasper police made posts on their Facebook pages. “Of course, it didn’t take long for the news to spread about what we had down here.”

Underwood said he was at a sheriff’s conference in Gulf Shores, and returned to Jasper early Monday morning. He left Sunday with the intention to stay three days.

A total of 11 inmates were recaptured in about eight hours thanks to the efforts of sheriff’s deputies, police and local citizens, he said. He said the first arrests involved inmates who were all taken to one place at first, whose location deputies were pointed to. It was only four miles from the jail.

Kilpatrick “is being pursued as we speak in another county,” Underwood said. “I think we’ll have the other fellow by the end of the day.” He believed that he was still in the state, noting he is not considered dangerous.

“I thank all the police officers involved who assisted us. I thank my employees here. They did a wonderful job. They worked all night long,” he said, adding the U.S. Marshal’s Service also offered to help at one point.

The community helped tremendously, he said, and he commended Jasper for bringing all available manpower. Constables and Parrish police also got involved. “We had a lot of people helping out,” he said.

He also thanked his jail and sheriff staff, saying they do a good job.

“When you operate a jail with 240 people in it, it happens. Escapes happen,” he said. “They had one in Marion County recently and they had one in Blount County recently where they knocked the walls down and come out. Just because you lock them up, they are still criminals. They will continue doing they’re doing. They don’t come nice just because you got them locked in jail.

“We have some evil people down here. They scheme all the time to con us and our employees down at the jail. You have to say on your toes. This is one time we slipped up. I’m not going to make any excuses. It was a human error that caused this to happen.”

He said the inmates were smart in that they found a way to spread peanut butter to hide parts of numbers over the cell door using peanut butter, which had a similar color as the wall as the number was covered with the substance. “That may sound crazy, but these people are crazy like a fox,” he said.

A recently hired employee was in a control room, keeping account of 150 inmates, Underwood said. With the number visibly changed due to the peanut butter application, an inmate (who did not escape) yelled for the door with that new number to be opened--when what it actually opened was an outside exit door.

“Unbeknowingly to him, he hit that lock and out the door they went,” he said, noting they escaped out of the B Dorm of the jail. “He thought he was opening up the cell door for this man to go into his cell, when, in fact, he opened up the outside door.” He said the jailer should have been more cautious.

Seven people were working in the jail at the time, which is about usual.

Underwood said sheriff’s officials do expect to possibly charge other people from outside the jail with helping the escaping inmates, he said. “They did have some assistance,” Underwood said. The number who might be involved is undetermined at this time.

No one was injured at any time in the episode as far as law enforcement or the public. Two of the inmates cut their hands going over the fence, he said, with one eventually going to the hospital to get his thumb sewn back on, where the razor wire cut it.

“We have intercepted some phone calls about their plan,” he said. “It was well laid out, and they took advantage of a young fella who hasn’t been here very long. That’s it in a nutshell.”

The inmates threw blankets over the 15-foot high razor wire fence, and clothing was found behind the jail, “some of them throwing their orange jumpsuits off in every direction,” he said. Underwood guessed it might have taken 10 minutes for them all to get over the wall.

Several are thought to have driven out in one truck, while some of them went out on foot.

One vehicle was also stolen in Townley, which was later recovered, he said, now parked behind the jail.

Cameras did operate on that side of the jail where the jail break occurred, Underwood said.

Underwood said he has not spoken with the new jailer, nor did he speculate what if any punishment the inmate would receive. “We’re going to take care of that. He’s a young guy and he hasn’t been here long,” he said.

He noted that a jail school for rookies is infrequently held and officials experience a large amount of turnover at the jail in employment. Many start at the jail with hopes of moving up to a deputy one day.

No robocall system is used to alert citizens for jail escapes, he said. When reporters noted many elderly may not use social media, Underwood said the word got out well.

When questioned about it taking three hours before the incident was posted on Facebook, Underwood said it was not take three hours to post it on the sherif’s website. A look at late Monday afternoon did not turn up any postings. Underwood said something was posted at 9:20 p.m., which would be about the time it was posted on Facebook.

He was asked about why it took that long to post when Jasper police were notified by the sheriff’s department at 7:45 p.m., with attempted murder inmates on the loose.

“We had a lot going on here,” he said. “We got it out as soon as we knew ourselves. We started fanning out to collect these people. We interviewed people still in the cell. Not everyone left that cell. Some of them didn’t go. They helped us considerably telling us what had taken place.”

As for how long the bed check took, he said he was not present so he didn’t know.

He said the jail, built in 1998, has deficiencies. “We work on it as much as we can,” with funds available. In this case, he said the jail itself worked properly as it is supposed to with human error involved. The inmates picked up the young man was a weak link to take advantage of.

Underwood said as for future changes, officials need to look again at the idea of putting a younger person in a controlled area to make decisions on 140 inmates. He said the camera system in the main control unit needs more monitors and cameras where officials can better monitor situations.

Some improvements could cost a large amount of money. “A screw in this jail costs 4 bucks,” he said. “Anything with ‘corrections’ on it costs money,” he said, referral to repairs in correctional facilities.

Underwood noted an estimate has been given in the past for renovations to prevent an incidents like this from happening again. He estimated it would take about $300,000 to do the work, but said overall he felt the chances for getting the $300,000 would be slim. He did not know if any of that could come from the annual $500,000 in public safety funds that would come from the proposed 1-cent sales tax on the local Aug. 15 ballot.

The sheriff said his office is conducting an investigation into the incident, but he didn’t know of any other agencies investigating it.

Asked about whether $500 was a small amount of reward, Underwood said it led to two or three recaptures and the people who helped will be paid.

Underwood said it was the first incident like this since he arrived to the position in 2014, except for a Jasper inmate in March 2016 who ran away during a shift change while washing vehicles outside the jail. He was recaptured an hour later.

Those arrested in this week’s jail break will be charged with escape, he said.