Jail and prison escapes are most fun from a distance, where we can wonder at the daring of two inmates willing to dangle 20 stories high over downtown Chicago on bedsheets. Or question the strange ease with which a convicted killer hopped out the fifth floor window of a maximum security facility in Pennsylvania.
But for the department dealing with an inmate on the lam, it's a different story.
"Investigators are following up on leads," said Los Angeles County Sheriff's Captain Mike Parker in the latest update on a inmate who apparently walked out of the Inmate Reception Center in downtown L.A. days earlier.
The 37-year old Christopher Lee Brown had just been sentenced to four years in jail for burglary and identity theft. Because of his sentencing, he'd been shuttled to and from court earlier in the day. Any male inmate in L.A. entering (or leaving) the jails, whether for the first time or after a court appearance, goes through the Inmate Reception Center in the bowels of the Twin Towers Correctional Facility. Thousands of inmates pass through the area each day.
In this case, however, instead of returning to his cell in Twin Towers, Brown apparently impersonating another inmate, managed to walk out the reception center's release door.
"It appears that mandated security practices may not have been followed," Parker said in a release, noting that whatever security flaw took place has been remedied.
Julie Ruhlin, deputy chief attorney at the Office of Independent Review (OIR), a sheriff watchdog group, said LASD has already opened an internal affairs investigation into the escape. Internal investigators will look at why the incident happened and for any staff collusion or wrongdoing. The OIR then reviews such investigations.
As far as the Brown incident, "I've never seen an escape like this," Ruhlin said. "Escapes in general are pretty rare."
When they do happen, it's usually something like an inmate who's working on a crew, or incarcerated at a relatively non-secure camp.
"They're supposed to be mowing the grass and all of a sudden get the urge to walk away," said Mike Gennaco, head of the OIR. "Not this kind of thing."
Gennaco did recall one incident in 2001, where an inmate managed to leave a secure facility in what was later termed a security breach.
Kevin Jerome Pullum, 30 at the time, managed to ditch his inmate jumpsuit, change into street clothes, and pass through the employee exit of Twin Towers wearing a badge he made using Eddie Murphy's picture from a "Dr. Doolittle 2" ad in the paper.
California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Spokesperson Bill Sessa said Pullum got four years in prison for the escape, on top of a 25-years-to-life sentence for his original crime, attempted murder.
A third-striker, Pullum is currently in Ironwood State Prison, a low-to-medium security prison near Blythe. Sessa said Pullum's records show he's at least 15 years away from being eligible for parole.
The L.A. County Sheriff's Department did not immediately have a full list of jail escapes over the years.
Gennaco estimated walk-aways from hospitals, camps, and non-secure areas happen once a year or so. With more secure areas, requiring something like actual deception, it's more like once every few years or so, he said.
Changes to procedures, discipline, and retraining could all occur when the department figures out exactly what went wrong, Ruhlin said.
Meanwhile, authorities continue to hunt for Brown, a transient who's been arrested previously in Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, El Monte, Newport Beach, and most recently, Alhambra.