5 inmates 'just got lucky'
Chief deputy details series of mistakes; one escapee caught
FARMINGTON — Apart from a desperate urge to be free, the five inmates who escaped from the St. Francois County Detention Center here Tuesday evening — four of them still on the lam — had several strokes of good fortune.
A few hours before nightly lockdown, they somehow gained entry into cell D-1 in their pod. Chief Deputy Gregory Armstrong of the St. Francois County Sheriff's Department said in an interview that the cell was supposed to be closed off because it had plumbing issues.
He said there'd been damage from a previous escape attempt in the area, but the five were able to "overcome the repair."
Not only did they unseat the stainless steel sink and toilet, they climbed through the wall and made it down from the roof. The jail, which Armstrong said holds about 200 inmates, is undergoing an expansion for a medical wing.
"One of the contractors left a ladder up against the building," Armstrong said.
On the hunt for a getaway car, they ran one mile away, to a secured lot at a Centene Corp. office, just off Highway 67. There,
Armstrong said, after searching other vehicles, they found a 2009 Scion tC with temporary tags. Keys in it. Full tank of gas.
"They just got lucky," he said. "It's a black eye, of course, that we didn't want. Sometimes things happen."
By Friday, the jail lobby was quiet and the construction crews were back on the roof working on the medical wing. There were no roadblocks around town. Armstrong didn't want to disclose many details about the range of the search, other than to say it is extensive and includes other law enforcement agencies beyond Farmington.
"We don't believe they are still in the area," Armstrong said.
Farmington is about 70 miles south of St. Louis.
The escapees, who were all in custody for felony charges, are Dakota Pace, Michael Wilkins, LuJuan Tucker, Aaron Sebastian and Kelly McSean.
Late in the day Friday, Armstrong said in a press release that one of the five had been captured. Poplar Bluff police took Wilkins into custody Friday morning at a second-hand retail store without incident. A tip led investigators to the area. A person matching Wilkins' description was seen at a bar in Poplar Bluff on Wednesday evening. He'd entered the bar alone, according to the tip, mostly kept to himself, only drinking water.
In a twist that speaks to the legacy of mental health treatment in Farmington, Tucker, Sebastian and McSean were recent residents of the nearby Sex Offender Rehabilitation and Treatment Services, or SORTS, facility. Like others deemed sexually violent predators, they were civilly committed, held against their will as patients because of what they might do. They've already served prison sentences for their convicted crimes.
Few people get out of SORTS, a controversial program since it began in 1999. While prosecutors say SORTS is a good public safety tool, some patients, including those who were elderly, have died while trying to complete treatment. In a review of the program, a federal judge once said SORTS had systemic failures but ultimately passed scrutiny.
Though SORTS is beside the Farmington Correctional Center, a state prison, it's a high security hospital run by the Missouri Department of Mental Health. Some patients have said they prefer being in prison because there are more freedoms.
"Nobody stopped to question why we are so willing to go back to prison," Dennis Strutton, a SORTS patient, told the Post-Dispatch by phone Friday. "It's because we don't have any hope. I have been in treatment 20 years. We've all been trying to find a way out that's legit. But there's not. You have to be selected. The majority of the guys selected, they've been brought back."
Debra Walker, spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Mental Health, said there are 265 SORTS "clients" in Farmington and at Fulton State Hospital, and 21 detainees in county jails. She said 24 people have been granted conditional release since the program. Asked about the apparently
hopelessness, she wrote by email: "The Missouri Circuit Courts determine the conditional release of SORTS program clients."
While Strutton said hopelessness likely helped motivate Tucker, Sebastian and McSean to run, they were being held in the jail at the time of their escape for a range of alleged criminal offenses at SORTS, which tends to raise questions for officials about how seriously they were taking treatment.
Tucker, 37, a former resident of the Maryland Heights area first convicted in 2003 of raping a 12-year-old girl, has pending cases including third-degree assault while at SORTS and second-degree sodomy. He'd already gone back to prison once for assaulting SORTS staff.
Sebastian, 30, formerly of Greene County, and McSean, 52, a transgender woman from Holts Summit formerly named Larry Bemboom, are both accused of knowingly committing violence upon a SORTS employee.
"A county jail is not the appropriate place to house those folks," Armstrong said. "We are not a mental health facility. We are a county jail."