Jail officials change protocols after escape

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Tyrell Deshawn White, 22, was putting trash in one of these bins outside the Hancock County Jail when he took off. The escape has prompted jail officials to reassess the inmate work program. (Tom Russo | Daily Reporter)

By Kristy Deer

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HANCOCK COUNTY — Jailers were following established procedures last week when an inmate took advantage of briefly being outside for a work detail and escaped, officials said.

Still, those in charge of the Hancock County Jail have already changed some protocols to ensure inmates won’t have a chance to double-cross law enforcement or the system again.

Tyrell Deshawn White, 22, Indianapolis, ran away from jail officers on Sunday evening, Jan. 10. He is still at large.

Jail commander Bridget Foy said the jail has suspended allowing inmates on work details to be outside the jail, as White was when he was taking out the trash and then took off. She also has ordered a change in the clothing work inmates wear. They’ve ordered new black and white striped uniforms with the word “JAIL” on them to replace the plain white work uniforms like the one White was wearing when he escaped.

White also was wearing tennis shoes, which work inmates are allowed to wear because of duties that keep them on their feet for long periods. Foy said officials are considering changes in footwear as well.

The jail also will improve the screening of inmates for work details, and leaders are also working to increase staffing, which would lead to closer supervision, they say.

Escapes are not common, officials said. While the county jail has experienced escapes from inmates taking part in work release, home detention or on outside work details, all those have occurred outside the jail building.

Sheriff Brad Burkhart noted they have not had an inmate break out of the jail in more than 30 years.

“In this case, the work inmate took off when he was outside, not from inside a secured facility, and we want to make that clear,” Burkhart said. “People think we have inmates escaping all the time, and that’s just not true. This inmate took advantage of the situation when he was outside.”

The incident has caused officials to look differently at work inmates who may have ulterior motives once assigned to special details.

“White had an ulterior motive the whole time, and that’s the thing,” Foy said. “We put him in a trusted position, and this was what his mindset truly was. It’s a breach of trust.”

Both Burkhart and Foy acknowledge the incident is an opportunity to assess the way they handle work inmates and make changes to assure it doesn’t happen again.

“It’s unfortunate, but after years of doing things the same way, sometimes you get complacent, and I think that’s what happened in this instance,” Foy said.

Added Burkhart: “We can always go back and look at how we can do things better, and this is one of those times. We take responsibility for what took place even though we did everything we normally do by the book.”

White, who was facing several felony charges after his arrest in the summer of 2020, is the kind of inmate who saw an opportunity within the standard procedures and took advantage of two freedoms he’d earned to make his escape. First, he abused his phone privileges when he used other inmates’ phone access cards to set up his escape ride in advance, officials said. Using others’ cards allowed him to make the calls without drawing attention to himself.

Secondly, the privilege of stepping outside for a few minutes gave him the opening he needed, even though he was not more than 10 feet from the door with two officers supervising him and two other inmates.

While Burkhart wants to vet the situation further, he’d like to see the process change for selecting inmates for work details. Foy agreed.

With decades of detective and investigative police work on her resume, Foy will now personally interview all of the inmates who are candidates for the work detail. That normally equates to about 7% of the jail’s population who do cleaning, kitchen work and trash detail.

Meanwhile, authorities have arrested White’s girlfriend, Titiana Evans, 23, Indianapolis, who police say helped him escape. The couple had talked for months during phone conversations about how White could get away, according to a probable cause affidavit.

Evans has three children with White, who was able to call Evans on her cellphone and told her he would be outside in a few minutes shortly before he escaped, the affidavit said.

Evans told officials she was waiting in a car in the parking lot at Hancock Hope House, the place White told her to meet him. The county’s homeless shelter is a few blocks from the jail.

Foy knows that regardless of how hard law enforcement works to keep inmates in line, there will be challenges. But she is hopeful the changes will prevent further escapes. Foy also noted the jail is understaffed and has been for some time, with seven jailers per shift. They’re aiming to get nine jailers per shift, hoping more supervision will prevent issues.

Burkhart said he’s already discussed having some type of perimeter around the outside of the new jail, which is under construction, to further deter inmates who may wind up working outside — and in case of an emergency.

“Having a fenced in area would be ideal in case we ever have to evacuate the jail,” Burkhart said. “So I will continue to push for these types of things so we have a secure facility.”