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Investigation underway after Sebastian County jail escape

by Thomas Saccente | December 28, 2021 at 7:22 a.m.
Sebastian County Sheriff Hobe Runion speaks during a news conference at the Sheriff's Office Monday after two inmates escaped from the county jail Friday. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Saccente)

FORT SMITH -- The Sebastian County Sheriff's Office is doing an internal investigation and looking at disciplinary measures, up to and including termination, after two inmates escaped from the county jail Christmas Eve.

Sheriff Hobe Runion said at a news conference Monday a combination of policy violations and staff failures made the escape of Jeremiah Slavens, 39, of Fort Smith and Dustin Smith, 36, of Muldrow, Okla., possible.

"There is going to be severe discipline at this point to several employees," Runion said. "It's a totally unacceptable event. I could stand up here and try and give you reasons, but there's not. There's no excuse for what happened."

The Sheriff's Office is looking at all its policies and procedures and why the escape was able to happen as part of its efforts to ensure such a thing doesn't happen again, Runion said. The internal investigation will be finished "fairly quickly."

The Sheriff's Office determined Slavens and Smith were able to force up a light in the shower of one of the jail pods, after which they created a hole in the ceiling allowing them to enter the area between the ceiling and the roof, according to a Monday news release.

The two men made their way through the space with an electronic tablet used for video visitation and other purposes that hadn't been turned in as a light source, the release states. They found an iron worker's tool that could've been been there for decades, and used it to pry an overlapping metal roof panel back and get onto the roof.

Slavens and Smith then found a water hose used for air conditioning maintenance and used it to rappel down the north side of the facility, according to the release. Deputies found an unused rope they had made out of bed sheets left behind.

Slavens and Smith were seen running from the north side of the building on camera around midnight Friday, the release states. Deputies discovered they were missing around 2 p.m. Friday while the sheriff and his administration were notified around 6 p.m.

"Procedures and policies were not followed as to shift headcounts and pod inspections," the release states. "Timely notifications were not made."

Slavens was captured around 11:30 p.m. Friday in Fort Smith and returned to the jail, according to an email from the Sheriff's Office on Saturday. Smith was captured around 1 p.m. Saturday in Oklahoma and was taken to the LeFlore County jail in Poteau, Okla., to await return to Sebastian County. Both face second degree escape charges.

Runion estimated the last escape from the jail happened in 1997 or 1998.

Prior to the Escape

Jeremiah Slavens came into the Sebastian County jail Nov. 13. He was being held for failing to appear in court, possession of drug paraphernalia, and theft before he escaped.

Dustin Smith had been in the facility since Nov. 16. He was being held for parole violations, felon in possession of a firearm, theft and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Both men were committed to the Arkansas Department of Corrections.

Source: Sebastian County Sheriff’s Office

Print Headline: Investigation underway after Sebastian County jail escape


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