Originally created 05/06/02

Police review policy after inmate escape



After Tamika Bumpass escaped from police custody, one of the first questions being asked was how.

How did Ms. Bumpass get out of her restraints, gain control of a deputy's weapon and set off the 12-hour manhunt? How will this affect policy and procedure in the Columbia County Sheriff's Office?

More than two weeks after the escape, a spokesman for the office says no changes to policy will be made.

According to a copy of the transportation section of the Columbia County Sheriff's Office Bureau of Detention and Court Services Standard Operating Procedures, provided by Capt. Steve Morris, "the transporting deputy is responsible for the safety and security of the inmate and the general public."

At Ms. Bumpass' first hearing since the April 19 incident, Investigator Teresa Charney testified that Ms. Bumpass complained of not having enough air and of having an accelerated heart rate.

Investigator Charney said Deputy Glenda Shelton turned up the air conditioning and opened the Plexiglas partition to allow Ms. Bumpass more air.

Soon afterward, Ms. Bumpass dived through the open space, the two women struggled, Deputy Shelton was shot and Ms. Bumpass escaped, authorities said.

Opening the partition could be interpreted as breaking procedure No. 15, which states "any sliding windows on the partition will be closed and secured." Capt. Morris wouldn't confirm that interpretation but did say, "Mistakes were made that almost cost Deputy Shelton her life."

Capt. Morris also said the handcuffs might not have been applied tightly enough.

The transportation policy describes the steps a deputy should take if an inmate escapes. The deputy is required to notify authorities of the escape and give a description of the escapee and the last known direction of travel.

Authorities have said Deputy Shelton did all those things.

"She is an exceptional deputy with a spotless record," Sheriff Clay Whittle said the day after the escape.

As Deputy Shelton prepares to go back to work and Ms. Bumpass continues through the justice system, law enforcement agencies in surrounding counties are applying the lessons from what happened to their procedures and looking for ways to improve.

Capt. Chester Huffman, of the Richmond County Sheriff's Office, said his office no longer will use transportation vans with the sliding panels in them. Only two or three have that type of panel, he said.

"In light of the Columbia County mishap, we did an inspection of all of our vehicles," the captain said. "We are going to lock them shut until we can afford to replace them."

Maj. Ronnie Williamson, of the McDuffie County Sheriff's Department, said his office routinely reviews policies but took a closer look after the shooting. Because it transports so few inmates, the department drives them in squad cars, which have no sliding panel, he said.

"We felt we were doing everything adequate," Maj. Williamson said. "We just make sure everyone is on their toes."

Capt. Huffman said an incident such as the Columbia County shooting automatically forces law enforcement officers to evaluate procedures and policies, but he says mistakes do occur.

"If it happens to them, it can happen to us," he said. "Machines aren't driving. We're all people."

Reach Louie Villalobos at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 109, or ccchron@augustachronicle.com.