Inmate Update

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 18, 2009



Sheriff says steps taken after state inmates flee jail

By Rupert Howell

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

A local state inmate who was housed in the Panola County Jail was still in the intensive care unit of an undisclosed hospital Tuesday afternoon after he attempted suicide Monday afternoon according to Panola County Sheriff Otis Griffin.

Griffin, flanked by investigators and lieutenants, discussed the incident Tuesday morning following a weekend of drama.

Bobby Joe Wilkerson, whose current address is Sardis, is under guard at an undisclosed ICU. He is one of two inmates who escaped Saturday night using Panola County Airport’s courtesy car.

Both suspects are expected to be charged with two counts of grand larceny including auto theft, burglary of a dwelling and escape.

Griffin said he intercepted the car early Sunday morning in the Curtis Community where Wilkerson and another inmate, Calvin Curry, had family. A third inmate, Jon Burton of Walls, was also implicated when Sheriff ‘s Department investigators learned that the three inmates had previously hidden in a soybean field near the jail and waited for family members/girlfriends to pick them up late at night and bring them back to the jail early in the morning. Burton will be charged with escape and is being sent back to the Mississippi Department of Corrections.

Sheriff’s officials disclosed that missing inmates had arranged bedding so that it appeared they were in their beds when random head counts were conducted Saturday night, December 13.

Three family members have been charged with aiding in escape according to Griffin.

“We want to get the word out that if you help somebody break out we will charge you…,” Investigator Barry Thompson said Tuesday.

Investigator Mark Whitten speculated that Wilkerson’s latest charge would qualify him as a habitual offender and cause him to serve the full time of all charges in which he was convicted as motive for Wilkerson’s suicide attempt.

Whitten said Thursday that Wilkerson has shown signs of improvement.

Jon Kallihar, Public Affairs director with the Mississippi Department of Public Safety said that Wilkerson, 32, attempted to hang himself from a shower rod at approximatley 3:15 p.m. Monday. Sheriff’s officials called state investigators soon after the incident according to Griffin.

No foul play is supected according to Kallihar.

Whitten said sheriff department staff, inmates and EMT’s alike attempted to help the inmate.

“I promise you the medical response couldn’t have been any better,” Whitten said.

All three inmates worked with Panola County Solid Waste according to Jail Administrator Bobby Meek. They were part of the State-County Work Program that uses state inmate labor for county work such as garbage pick up, county lawn maintenance, auto repair and building maintenance.

Panola and other counties receive a fee for each day a state inmate is housed at county facilities.

“If you use inmate labor, there are risks,” Griffin noted.

Work was under way Tuesday adding security cameras and alarms to the  building’s doors. The building has separate rooms for individual inmates and was built with inmate labor during a former administration.

Regulations require that the state inmates be kept separate from county inmates and outside doors cannot be locked due to safety concerns due to fire hazards.

Griffin said that jailer Terry Bryant has now been assigned to watch over the building and the occupants within. With new security measures, the jailer on duty now  has a monitors viewing each side of the building and door alarms for each exit. Griffin also said thorough random head counts would be taken more often than in the past.

The sheriff said steps already taken, and a proposed fence with razor wire surrounding the dormitory, shop, work area and visitors’ building, would add extra dimensions of security.

Tommy Wells has served on the Panola County Airport Board for the past 17 years, said that courtesy cars are generally donated by local municipalities so that corporate pilots, using the honor system, can have transportation while at the county airport.

The cars are titled to the county with maintenance provided by inmate labor.

Wells said the airport gate is usually locked at 10 p.m. and one would have to know the code to get the into the airport area adjacent to the jail property. A hangar owner noted that the gate can be exited without a code.