Inmate’s escape remains a mystery
The Guilford County Sheriff’s Department still doesn’t know how an inmate convicted of first-degree murder managed to get a key that allowed him to unlock his restraints and escape from a recent court hearing.
Keith Lauchon Jackson Jr., who was sentenced to life in prison without parole Monday for first-degree murder, managed to get out of his shackles on the first day of his trial on June 10. Jackson then reportedly ran down the corridor of the fourth floor of the Guilford County Courthouse, jumped to the third floor, then ran outside and jumped off the second floor of the parking garage before being recaptured.
Col. Randy Powers with the Sheriff’s Department said the department is confident that the key did not come from one of their employees.
“He is not cooperating with us,” Powers said. “We checked all the keys of everybody that was working that day, just in case one of them had gotten loose, and we couldn’t find one missing. He was in a jail system, and you always have things that can accidentally happen with the officers cuffing and uncuffing, or it could have been that someone slipped him one, or a prisoner came in with one and decided to sell it to him. We don’t know, and we may never know, but I feel certain that we did not have an officer give it him.”
Powers said officers may get lucky and another prisoner may tell them where he got it.
“It was a standard type key. Anybody, including security guards, that go to certain places can buy handcuffs and get a key,” Powers said. “We are still looking at different things, and we have not closed the investigation.”
Jackson was sentenced Monday in the 2007 murder of 21-year-old Joshua Sweitzer, a convenience store clerk at the Lucky Mart on Fairfield Road. He currently is serving a 54-year federal prison sentence for his role in a string of what prosecutors termed gang-related armed robberies of stores in High Point and Davidson County in 2007 and 2008. He will begin serving his time for this sentencing after the federal sentence expires.
Jackson testified June 13 that he found the handcuff key in a lunch bag he was given by a bailiff. Jackson said the key got jammed in the handcuffs, and he did not have on leg shackles at the time he was housed in the holding cell.
He further testified that he ran down the corridor, jumped over the atrium and landed on his back before running to the stairwell towards the parking lot. From there, he said he jumped from the parking deck, landed on his back and hid in some bushes.
For the remainder of the trial and the sentencing, security was tightened. Several bailiffs were present in and outside the courthouse, including K-9s and their officers. He was not allowed to walk and was escorted in and out of the courtroom in a wheelchair.
Jackson’s attorney, Sharpe, objected to the increased restraints and security, saying they were unnecessary because the escape was not from the courtroom itself.
Jackson’s escape came three months after two prisoners who were being housed in the High Point Jail escaped with the help of pieces of metal, bed sheets and toothpaste.
Jose Alberto Hernandez, 35, and Jose Idel Sid, 36, were reported missing from a fourth-floor cell on March 16. Hernandez and Sid stuffed bedding under blankets so that it would appear that they were sleeping in their beds. The cell mates escaped that afternoon through a small hole in the prison Plexiglas window by using pieces of metal taken from the ceiling vent in their cell. The men popped the rivets that were in the Plexiglas and replaced them with toothpaste so it would appear that they were still secure.
The men then cut through the Plexiglas and the metal that separated them from the outside. Once through, they used tied sheets to make the 30-foot drop to the building’s ledge. Then they jumped another 14 feet to the ground level.
Hernandez was in custody on charges of first-degree sex offense with a child and six counts of indecent liberties with a child. Sid was in custody for indecent liberties with a child and an immigration violation detention.
Sid was recaptured on April 30, while Hernandez was recaptured on May 1.
“They got through something that nobody knew existed, the way it existed, until they exposed it,” Powers said. “I don’t think they knew it existed, I think they were just trying to see what they could get through, and it was a void there.”
Powers said anytime the department has incidents like these, they try to take corrective measures to ensure it does not happen again. He said the department already has begun developing some procedural changes so that what happened with Jackson will not happen again.
“When the prisoners go into the courtroom, they have to be dressed in civilian clothing and the shackles have to be hidden so it doesn’t prejudice the jury. We have to do everything we can to make sure this person gets their fair trial,” Powers said.
For the jail escape, Powers said guards are now required to ensure that inmates are in their cells during the checks by either entering the cell or standing at the window and looking for movement. The guards are required to check on the inmates twice an hour. The department also is reinforcing the windows in the High Point Jail by adding extra metal.
“We have made policy changes in the jail,” Powers said. “If they can’t see, they go into the cell and they look into the cell with a light and watch for movement.”
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