Friday's escape of two Utah County Jail inmates from protective custody has prompted the sheriff's department to review its procedures for transporting inmates to and from the county courthouse and has sparked renewed concern about the building's security.
An eight-member special response team, armed with tear gas and automatic weapons, took the escapees into custody without incident Friday at 10:14 a.m. The men, who were scheduled for appearances in 4th District Court, ran from two sheriff's deputies at 7:50 a.m. after being unloaded from a van behind the courthouse, said Sheriff Capt. Jerry Scott.Special response team members broke down the front door of apartment 2B at the Villa Rose complex, 262 E. First South, after shooting two tear gas rounds through the apartment's rear windows. Authorities tracked the men to the area and pinpointed their location after tracing a call one of the escapees made to a local girlfriend.
Provo Police Chief Swen Nielsen said about 30 law officers, including two county K-9 units, secured the area shortly after the escape and evacuated adjacent apartments. Authorities decided to storm the apartment after attempts to talk with the men proved fruitless, he said.
The escapees have been identified as Jed A. Mortensen, 21, and Robert T. Murray, 34. Mortensen, Spring-ville, was scheduled to be arraigned on charges of distribution of cocaine and three counts of theft. Murray, a convicted felon from Provo, is being held on federal probation violations, theft, forgery and bench warrants, said Utah County Sheriff Dave Bate-man.
Bateman said the men now face additional charges of escape from custody, a second-degree felony.
Local authorities are well acquainted with Murray, who has escaped before from authorities and claimed in 1986 to be a witness to the murder of Springville resident Pam Page. He later recanted that testimony.
Page disappeared while jogging April 21, 1984. Her remains were found four months later in Hobble Creek.
Mortensen and Murray, who had shed their orange jail jumpsuits for civilian clothing, were whisked from the apartment to the county jail moments after the response team stormed the apartment. "Murray was on his belly with his hands on his head when we went in," said one team member.
"We gave the go-ahead on the forced entry when the gas didn't dislodge them," Nielsen said. "We were fortunate the suspects picked an empty apartment."
Bateman said the inmates apparently weren't shackled together when they stepped from the van. However, they were handcuffed and were wearing waist chains. Murray somehow worked one arm free, and the two men fled east on First South, he said.
Bateman said one deputy gave chase while a second stayed with three other jail inmates who had been unloaded from the van. Sheriff Capt. Jerry Scott said he is angry the escape happened and has asked for an internal investigation to determine how to prevent future escapes.
"I don't know what we'll end up doing," Bateman said. "We only have finite resources and a fraction of the manpower we need."
He said he anticipates no major procedural changes.
"I feel we have good policies and procedures for handling these sorts of things, but if there's a weakness in our policies and procedures, we'll make changes," Bateman said. "And if there's a weakness in people not following policies and procedures, we'll make damn sure we take necessary action to ensure that it doesn't happen again. If that requires disciplinary action, we don't hesitate to take it."
Bateman also expressed concern about courthouse security and the public areas jail inmates pass through to and from courtroom appearances. In addition to four courtrooms, the courthouse houses several county and state government offices.