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County jail inmate recaptured after brief escape Wednesday afternoon
County jail inmate recaptured after brief escape Wednesday afternoon

Joseph Esparza fled from a doctor's office while in the custody of the sheriff's department and eluded a three-agency manhunt for 75 minutes before being recaptured near Rice's Cleaners on Highway 17 north of Waynesville.
WAYNESVILLE, Mo. (May 6, 2009) — Sheriff J.B. King has spent tens of thousands of dollars to improve the physical security of his jail and voiced many concerns about the security procedures at a neighboring jail that often houses county inmates, but when he had his first inmate escape in many years, the lack of a $45 set of leg irons was what made the difference since the inmate was outside the jail walls at a doctor’s appointment.

Deputies knew that Joseph Esparza was a flight risk; he was in the Pulaski County jail on charges stemming from a car chase last month during which he had fled from law enforcement personnel. However, he sustained a broken wrist during that car chase and subsequent crash, so deputies didn’t have him in handcuffs when they walked him and another inmate to a doctor’s office about a block away from the jail.

When he got to the doctor’s office about 4 p.m. Wednesday, Esparza ran out of the office and the deputy couldn’t catch him.

King said there’s not much the deputy could have done.

“The deputy was watching two inmates and when he was unable to catch the one who ran in a relatively short period of time, he realized he was leaving the other inmate who didn’t run to do whatever he wanted, so he went back,” King said. “It’s too early to tell whether (Esparza) planned this, or whether he just thought of it at the spur of the moment.”

Deputies immediately called for help from the Waynesville and St. Robert police, as well as the Missouri State Highway Patrol, and were able to locate Esparza by 5:15 p.m. — barely an hour after he fled the doctor’s office. Esparza, who was located in a private residence on Highway 17 north of Waynesville near the old Rice’s Cleaners building, didn’t put up a fight when found.

“When confronted, he surrendered,” King said. “We’re still looking into who he was with at that residence. We don’t quite know what happened, we don’t quite know why he did what he did, and we are still investigating.”

Internal procedures were followed, King said, including not putting inmates with medical problems in handcuffs that could exacerbate a wrist injury. Even if Esparza had been cuffed while walking from the jail to the doctor’s office it wouldn’t have helped, King said.

“Everything was done correctly; since we knew his wrist was broken, we would have removed the cuff for treatment at the doctor’s office even if we had cuffed him until then,” King said.

While existing department procedure was followed, the procedure may be changed.

“We’ll revisit it. I don’t know that changes will be made immediately, but we will definitely look at it,” King said.

One of those changes may be to put inmates in leg irons as well as handcuffs when they are walked from the county jail to the doctor’s office. That could become expensive at $45 per set, however.

“Leg irons are a budget item and I don’t know where we’ll get the money,” King said. “If we’re going to get leg irons, we would probably want to get 20 of them, and if we make them wear leg irons to walk to the doctor’s office we probably should make them wear leg irons many other places when they are outside.”

Escape from custody carries a five-year additional sentence, which is probably more than Esparza would have faced on the underlying charges of fleeing arrest and a forgery case for which he was arrested.

Motives for the escape aren’t yet clear, King said — beyond those that are obvious.

“I don’t think he likes police very much and I don’t think he likes jail very much,” King said.

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