Local News

Durham Authorities To Conduct Internal Investigation Into Prisoner's Escape

Posted December 16, 2002

— Last week, Omar Reed's escape from a Durham courthouse left authorities with lots of questions. Now, they hope to find out the circumstances that led to his escape to make sure it does not happen again.

Durham officials announced they will conduct an internal investigation into the incident.

"What the internal [investigation] is going to look at is what happened and if policy was followed," said Lucy Zastrow, of the Durham County Sheriff's Office. "If policy was followed, then we need to find out what in the policy was the breakdown. If policy was not followed, then obviously that's where the problem lies."

Reed had just been found guilty of first-degree murder on Friday when he overpowered a jailer and fled the Durham County courthouse.

Authorities say he used a homemade knife to force the detention officer to free him. Reed was later recaptured and taken into custody.

Reed appeared in court Monday to answer charges of felony assault on a government official and felony escape.

Durham does not have a good recent history when it comes to prisoners escaping from custody.

In October, three juveniles escaped from a detention center. They were arrested the next day after police released their pictures.

In May, officers were questioning Corey Edwards in the police station parking lot when he ran away wearing handcuffs. He was actually on the loose for a month before police caught up to him while responding to a home robbery.

In February 2000, murder suspect Alvin Sales jumped off the second-floor balcony of police headquarters. Sales did not make it very far, because he was seriously injured when he hit the ground.

In the aftermath of those escapes, speculation abounds as to why and how they could have happened. In Reed's case, there are questions about why he was not handcuffed or shackled, how was he able to make or obtain the knife he put to the throat of his guard, why was not there more than one guard watching him and why were there no surveillance cameras or a guard stationed at the basement door of the courthouse through which Reed exited.

Ricky Buchanan, the head of internal affairs, was quoted in a local newspaper Sunday as saying "it's normally not necessary to have security in a cell."

Reed escaped after he was taken to a holding cell to have lunch and wait for the sentencing hearing on his murder conviction. Detention officer Phyllis Lawrence took his handcuffs off so he could wash his hands before lunch, and that is when he made his break.

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