Prisoner Escape Brings Manhunt

Dozens Of Howard, Arundel Officers, State Troopers Seek Felon Who Fled After Choking Deputy

August 15, 2009|By Larry Carson and Don Markus | Larry Carson and Don Markus,larry.carson@baltsun.com and don.markus@baltsun.com

Nearly four dozen law enforcement personnel from Howard and Anne Arundel counties, as well members of the Maryland State Police, were searching Friday for a 20-year-old prisoner from Jessup who used his handcuffs to choke a sheriff's deputy and escape from custody late Thursday, authorities said.

Devin James Champagne, who was found guilty earlier Thursday evening of felony theft by a Howard County jury, could now face new charges of attempted murder, assault of a police officer and escape for the 11:30 p.m. incident that briefly left Donald Chase unconscious and sent the veteran officer to the hospital.

A former Baltimore police officer who became a sheriff's deputy in 1996, Chase was taken first to Howard County General Hospital because of cuts on his neck, and then was transferred to Johns Hopkins Hospital with a possible eye injury.

The condition of the 64-year officer was not available, but Sheriff James Fitzgerald said that Chase was "coherent" when they spoke by telephone Friday.

Champagne's home, just over the Anne Arundel County line in the 7500 block of Montevideo Court, was searched early Friday, police said. A neighbor later called police after seeing a shutter in one of the house's front windows open and close quickly, and another resident in the mostly rural neighborhood told police that a man in leg shackles was spotted near the home. But Fitzgerald later called the tips "unfounded."

Fitzgerald said that Champagne was the first Howard County prisoner to attack a sheriff's deputy in nearly 20 years, then quickly added that the procedure used to transport prisoners will be "reviewed" next week to help ensure greater safety for officers and the public.

Currently, Howard County uses only one sheriff's deputy to transport prisoners within the county, and only some of the cars are fitted with wire barriers between the back and front seats. Those cars are typically used while transporting prisoners charged with more serious crimes, or people taken into custody who are believed to be on drugs.

Champagne is on probation in Anne Arundel County for a 2007 first-degree assault conviction.

Awaiting the jury's verdict on burglary and theft charges after a two-day trial, Champagne disappeared from the courthouse Thursday night.

He was later talked back into returning by a family member, an officer at the courthouse said Friday.

After the verdict, Champagne had his bond revoked and was placed in handcuffs and leg shackles. The car Chase was driving was stopped at a light and about to make a turn into the detention center when the attack occurred. Police said that Champagne climbed into the front seat and tried to take Chase's gun, but he couldn't get the weapon.

The three-step system that police are taught on taking their gun out from their holster might have saved Chase's life, police said. Unable to get the gun, Champagne crawled out the passenger side window and ran into the woods near the detention center.

After Chase reported what had happened, police began searching the area with a combination of officers, police dogs and two helicopters in the mostly wooded neighborhoods near the detention center, a few miles from the house where Champagne and his mother live.

Champagne was believed to be unarmed at the time of his escape; police said that anyone who sees him should call 911.

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