12/19/2006

Baltimore man slips out of leg irons, takes off at courthouse

By Gus G. Sentementes
The Baltimore Sun

Editor's Note -- With courthouse security breaches on the rise, it's important to review best practice for suspect escort.

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10 secure tips from P-1 contributor Gary Klugiewicz.


Keith Ray has been in jail since July, after city police detectives arrested and charged him with a string of brazen carjackings across Central and North Baltimore.

But yesterday, Ray dashed out of the downtown courthouse a free man -- albeit for a few moments.

After his case was postponed, Ray was being escorted by corrections officers when he somehow slipped out of his leg irons and one of his handcuffs, breaking free, officials said.

With a pair of handcuffs dangling from his right wrist, the detainee barreled down several flights of stairs from the fourth floor and fled onto St. Paul Street about 11:30 a.m., officials said.

But Ray didn't get far. Two alert Baltimore police detectives, members of city State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy's security detail, heard and saw the man running through the courthouse and chased him onto the street, where they caught him more than a block away, on North Charles Street.

"Once we closed in, that's when we were ordering him to stop," Detective Tyrone Tillery, 32, said after the chase.

Tillery said he and another officer ordered Ray to lie on the ground as they drew their weapons.

"When we were escorting him back to the courthouse, he actually passed out from exhaustion," Tillery said. "We had to call for the ambulance."

Tillery said he and his partner, Detective Byron Conaway, did not know what the man they saw had done, but they chased him because they assumed he was an escapee or had committed a crime. They didn't see the handcuffs on his wrist until they caught him, Tillery said.

There were tense moments in the courthouse, as word spread that a detainee had escaped.

"As soon as we heard that there was an escapee, we locked our door," said Joseph Sviatko, a spokesman for the city state's attorney's office. "You just never know what can happen."

Questions remain about how Ray, 37, was able to elude corrections officers and sheriff's deputies, who are responsible for security at the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Circuit Courthouse. Benjamin Brown, assistant commissioner for the Division of Pretrial Detention and Services, which runs the city jail, said the state agency had begun an internal review of the circumstances of Ray's escape that will include a look at how corrections officers dealt with him.

Brown said internal investigators are trying to determine whether Ray planned the escape or whether he took advantage of an opportunity.

"I can't say a whole lot about how it happened because it's under investigation," Brown said. "If we made a mistake, we will take corrective action."

Col. Gregory Eads, assistant sheriff for the Baltimore City Sheriff's Office, said his agency is waiting for information from the pretrial division about the incident.

"We're waiting for them to recontact us with some preliminary reporting," said Eads. "Based on reporting we received from the state, if we can shore up some things [in courthouse security], we will."

Security at courthouses has been of increasing concern across the country. Last year, a detainee broke free in an Atlanta courthouse, grabbed a gun and shot a judge, a court reporter and a sheriff's deputy before fleeing. While on the loose, the man shot another law enforcement agent before he surrendered.

Ray was scheduled to be in court yesterday for trial, but his case was postponed at the request of his attorney. His new trial date is March 7, according to the city state's attorney's office. Sviatko said prosecutors are reviewing the incident to determine what charges they can file against Ray in connection with the escape.

Ray has been charged in connection with several cases over the past summer, with police alleging that he was a one-man crime wave, mostly in the Northern, Northeastern and Central districts.

The charges include several counts of armed carjacking in incidents in which police say a man wore a mask and used a pellet gun to rob people or force them drive to an automated teller machine, where they were told to withdraw money. Other charges include attempted murder, assault, burglary, theft, and car theft, court records show.

In one case, Ray is accused of holding up a 63-year-old law professor outside his Guilford home, forcing him to drive to an ATM and withdraw $1,200. The victim was dropped off in Reservoir Hill without his pants, police said.

While police were investigating the case in July, detectives were talking to a woman at a house in Baltimore County on a Saturday night. Detectives saw a man acting suspiciously, and, as they went to question him, he ran through the house and crashed through a sliding glass door in an attempt to escape. Detectives chased and caught him.

Copyright 2006 The Baltimore Sun Company
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