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Published: Sunday, 10/1/2006

3 suspended in theft suspect's escape

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Two Lucas County sheriff's deputies and a corrections officer have been suspended for allowing a suspected bank robber to escape from the county jail.

Sheriff's Deputy Hank Lewis and Corrections Officer Vincent Whitacre were suspended without pay for 60 days for neglect of duty and sheriff's deputy Lisa Edmondson for five days after an investigation into the Aug. 21 escape of inmate Robert Harris, according to Jon Rogers, the sheriff's director of internal affairs.

Harris, 29, escaped from the Lucas County jail between 1:30 and 2:40 p.m. after picking up a set of keys, including a master key, in the jail module where he had been confined. He allegedly then robbed a Charter One bank on Lagrange Street, about two miles from the jail, at 2:43 p.m., before jail officials even knew he had escaped. He was arrested without incident the next day at a home on Division Street.

Mr. Rogers said yesterday that Deputy Lewis had left a set of keys with Officer Whitacre, who "dozed off" while on duty that afternoon. He said it was unclear if the officer was asleep when Harris took the keys.

Deputy Edmondson had been in the area around the time of the escape and "was in the wrong place at the wrong time," Mr. Rogers said. "She really didn't have anything to do with the escape," he added.

Deputy Lewis and Deputy Edmondson were hired by the department in 1994 and Officer Whitacre joined the staff in 2003.

A disciplinary hearing was held Thursday, and the officers are expected to begin serving their suspensions in the next two weeks, Mr. Rogers said. They have the right to appeal their punishment to the State Personnel Board of Review in Columbus.

The Aug. 21 escape was the latest in a series of incidents during the last decade at the jail, which is overseen by Sheriff James Telb, a Democrat who has held that office for more than two decades.

A former jail counselor smuggled in parts for a gun that was used by an inmate during a failed escape attempt in 2003. The inmate fired two shots at a corrections officer but did not injure anyone.

That same year, a guard was caught smuggling cocaine into the jail.

In 1997, a man facing bank robbery, theft, and domestic abuse charges escaped when he cut or broke through reinforced glass and the steel bars of his fourth-floor cell. He climbed to the street between the exterior jail wall and an outer decorative metal framework. He was apprehended moments later.

Two prisoners escaped from the jail in 1996 with the aid of a hacksaw blade that was mailed to them in a greeting card.

One of the escapees was arrested a month later while the other man remained free for about six months before he was recaptured.

Contact David Yonke at: dyonke@theblade.com or 419-724-6154.



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