Annapolis jailbreak shakes neighbors' sense of security

They thought escapee would flee the area

April 14, 2001|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

Police helicopters hovered overhead. Search dogs and police officers combed Annapolis neighborhoods for a maximum-security inmate who had just scaled two razor-wire fences at the Anne Arundel County detention center. But Mary Mantilla wasn't alarmed at all.

"I never gave it a second thought," said Mantilla, a medical secretary who lives in the condominiums behind the jail off Admiral Drive.

Her neighbor, Amy Cornett, wasn't worried either -- at least not initially.

The way she and many other Annapolis residents figured it, a fugitive charged with attempted murder would run about as far from the jail as possible.

When the inmate, Derrick D. Jones, was found a week ago less than a mile from the detention center, hiding in a trash bin on West Street, it gave some neighbors pause.

"When I heard how close he was, that's when it hit me," Cornett said. "If it happened again, I'd be a lot more concerned. You'd think he'd be long gone."

Many neighbors of jails and prisons -- from Jessup to Baltimore, Western Maryland to the Eastern Shore -- believe that the closer you live to the jail, the safer you are during an escape. They expect the inmate to flee the area. But that's not always the case, as Annapolis residents learned last week.

The time of danger

According to prison experts, the most serious danger for neighbors occurs between an escape and the time the public is informed.

During that interval, an escapee might steal a car, break into a home or commit some other crime in the effort to get away. Once an escape is publicized, people are likely to be on guard, experts say.

"That's one of the reasons why prison administrators need to have a relationship with the community and a good system to notify them when there's a threat to public safety," said Jonathan M. Smith, executive director of the Public Justice Center in Baltimore.

Most county detention centers in the region alert the police and the media, depending on them to warn local property managers and residents about escapes.

Sirens in Jessup

In Jessup, which has the largest concentration of prisons and jails in Maryland -- more than a dozen within a few square miles -- there's a warning system to notify nearby residents about state prison security problems.

When the system works, sirens are activated to alert the neighbors of an escape.

In part because Jessup is at the crossroads of several major highways, including Interstate 95, residents there say they feel fairly confident that any inmate who escapes would quickly leave the area.

In 1999, it was unsettling to many residents when two inmates escaped from the Maryland Correctional Institution and neighbors later learned that the pair went to a liquor store on Route 175 where they waited for a ride.

But true to conventional wisdom, they got as far away from Jessup as possible, which in their case, was an East Baltimore rowhouse and a $37-a-night motel on Pulaski Highway.

Running to family, friends

"If you look at past escapes, I think you see that generally an inmate goes to family or friends," said Richard J. Baker, superintendent of Anne Arundel County's detention centers.

"They usually don't stay in the immediate area," he said.

Jones was one of the exceptions.

"I think we were all surprised at how close he was," Baker said.

For all the trouble it took to get out of jail, it appeared Jones had nowhere to go.

Annapolis city police say Jones spent much of the next two days rummaging around trash bins and begging for spare change outside a Wendy's fast-food restaurant.

"I was at Wendy's the next day," said Cornett.

"It's scary. I could've run right into him."

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