CINCINNATI — Hamilton County Sheriff Charmaine McGuffey said multiple inmates have escaped police custody over the past three weeks.
On Sunday, Patrick Thomas escaped from the Talbert House on Reading Road around 5:15 p.m. Investigators said he broke a third floor window, then climbed down to the street using bed sheets he tied together.
McGuffey said Thomas tunneled through dry wall in the minimum security jail, concealed the damage with a locker and bed and made his escape when a guard went down for dinner. The window through which Thomas threw a chair lacked the metal screening that other windows at Talbert House had; McGuffey said that's because it was deemed inaccessible.
Deputies said Thomas was being held at the Talbert House on a warrant from Kenton County, Ky. and his prior history indicates he should be considered dangerous.
He was found in Westwood and taken back into custody Thursday evening.
Around 5:20 a.m. on Sunday morning, 44-year-old James Johnson escaped from the University of Cincinnati Medical Center while undergoing treatment, investigators said. Hamilton County Sheriff Charmaine McGuffey said on Monday that Johnson was re-captured Monday afternoon.
Johnson was originally being held on a felony drug possession charge, as well as a holder for falsification from another county. McGuffey said he will now also be charged with an escape charge, a felony that can carry one year or more of jail time.
"I've been here 35-plus years and I have known of escapees like this that have happened from this facility here at the Justice Center and the Talbert House," said McGuffey. "Those were some years passed and prior sheriffs. It is unusual, absolutely it is, but has happened before, yes it has."
On June 8, Melissa Cordell was able to walk out of the Hamilton County Justice Center by mingling with inmates set to be released. She went unnoticed by deputies because she was in plain clothes in intake, McGuffey said. Cordell was initially arrested for a misdemeanor theft charge, but will now also face the felony charge for her escape. She was caught just one day after she fled custody.
Weeks later, on June 20, McGuffey said a man named George Bridewell was able to escape the same way. Bridewell was initially arrested for drug possession. He has since been re-captured by police.
"There is a ton of activity in this area," said McGuffey during a Tuesday interview. "When you have activity like that and you have two inmates, two prisoners who know the system well, both of those people had been incarcerated multiple times. They were what you might call a frequent flyer. They had been in and out of the facility for low-level drug offenses and they knew, because they watch and they see, they knoew how to calculate 'how can I best beat the system.'"
McGuffey said the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office manages 1,200 inmates and handles intake and release for 80 to 90 inmates a day, which she said creates a lot of movement in and out of the Hamilton County Justice Center.
To stop inmates in intake from escaping with inmates being released, McGuffey said the Hamilton County Justice Center will be working to make changes, including adding new cameras, Plexiglas and new procedural changes. Now, the jail will only release up to five inmates at one time to avoid allowing inmates in intake to slip out with a crowd, she said.
"The camera system that's down at the door that access out to the public area isn't the best," said McGuffey. "In fact most of the time it's not operating. We're going to install a better camera there. Making sure when an officer hits the door. They have complete visual ID on who's going through it."
McGuffey also spoke about how young their staff is compared to previous years.
"I will tell you this, we have hired a tremendous amount of new, young officers," said McGuffey. "We've had a lot of officers retiring that are tenured that have obviously been around for years. That makes for a different level of surveillance and a different level of decision-making. We're training those officers, we're getting them re-trained. I do support the officers, they are young men and women who I do believe are trying their best."
Anyone with information on Thomas' whereabouts is asked to call the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office at 513-825-1500 or Crimestoppers at 513-352-3040.
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