Daring Court Escape Forces Security Review in Michigan Town

Two escapes in less than one week prompt procedural review


One of four desperate inmates who triggered a massive manhunt Monday after they took a guard's gun and escaped a Pontiac courthouse had escaped the same lockup three days before, authorities said.

Three of the inmates, including the one who escaped previously, were recaptured within 90 minutes of the 2:15 p.m. breakout at 50th District Court, police said. The officer's keys and stolen sidearm were recovered as well, police said.

The fourth inmate, Jahmal A. Dillahunty, 23, of Pontiac, was in jail on charges of attempted murder and armed robbery. He was nabbed on Perry Street about 5:30 p.m., but not before the heart of Pontiac's central business district either closed or -- at the urging of police -- went into lockdown mode for several hours.

With two escapes in less than a week, court administrators say they are now reviewing security procedures at the facility. Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said that in his jail, inmates facing serious charges are shackled. None of the prisoners who escaped from court Monday were handcuffed or shackled.

Although the escapees were housed at the Oakland County Jail, inmates are brought to 50th District Court for appearances and are taken back to jail.

Bouchard's deputies don't handle prisoner security at the 50th District Court. If they did, he said, "anyone with a charge like that would have been shackled and belly-chained."

People accused of serious crimes become desperate when a judge brings the reality of their situation home to them, Bouchard said.

"That's when the possibility of getting killed or hurt is high," he said. "Any sanity goes out the window."

The four escapees were in a lockup area with about 20 other inmates set to appear in district court Monday afternoon. The four who escaped were not handcuffed or shackled, according to Pontiac Police Sgt. William Ware.

Ware said courthouse security falls within the purview of the chief judge. Assistant Court Administrator Barbara Wynder said Chief Judge Leo Bowman, who was not available for comment Monday, issued a news release saying that he was reviewing security procedures and policies at the court.

Wynder said she saw three of the men escape through the back door of the courthouse building, but knew little about the circumstances surrounding the jailbreak. She said that there are closed-circuit security cameras to monitor people in custody and that she feels that the court is "pretty secure."

Not everyone in the holding area chose to flee, Ware said. That was the same reaction inmates had when one of them -- Michael W. Rutherford, 36, of Pontiac -- escaped Friday, only to be recaptured hours later.

Rutherford, whom police said is believed to be homeless, escaped after court security failed to secure his cell door when moving other prisoners, police said.

Rutherford was arrested Wednesday and charged with two counts of home invasion. He was discovered missing about 2 p.m. Friday and found near Perry Street and Glenwood Avenue in Pontiac about 9 p.m., police said.

On Monday, just after 2 p.m., Rutherford and the three other inmates overpowered court officer Ronald Gracey, kicked him in the face, and took his handgun and keys before fleeing, authorities said. Gracey was treated and released from POH Medical Center.

Throughout the afternoon, Pontiac police and Oakland County sheriff's deputies, some armed with assault rifles, stalked the city's downtown while a Sheriff's Office helicopter patrolled overhead. Bouchard said up to 45 deputies joined the search.

The first three inmates recaptured Monday were caught near the courthouse. They are: Maki L. Ragland, 20, his brother, Joseph Ragland, 17, both of Canton, Ohio, and Rutherford, 36. Their original charges weren't immediately available. Dillahunty, who was booked Sunday, was nabbed several blocks away from the courthouse on Monday.

When reached at Dillahunty's home Monday evening after all the inmates had been recaptured, a man who identified himself as Dillahunty's brother said that he felt horrible about what happened. The man did not give his name.

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