Bellevue Police reviewing inmate transport policies

Bellevue Police are reviewing the process for transporting inmates following Wendell Downs' escape from custody at the Bellevue Courthouse last month.

Downs, 20, had been in custody since Nov. 12, when he was booked on first-degree robbery, second-degree organized retail theft and two other felony theft charges. He was at the Bellevue Courthouse Jan. 31 for a misdemeanor traffic case.

A Bellevue police support officer brought Downs and another inmate to the courthouse from the King County Jail around 11 a.m. Both inmates had their hands shackled in front of them and feet shackled to prevent them from running.

Downs is reported to have started running after he was helped out of the van and is believed to have been picked up by his girlfriend, Tanjanique Hillis, at the bottom of the courthouse driveway. Hillis was arrested at another King County Courthouse on Feb. 18 and Downs remains at large.

"Any time something goes wrong, we're going to take a look at it and see, one, if there is any training we need to do or any procedures or policies like that," said Bellevue Police Lt. Marcia Harnden.

Downs is the third inmate to escape custody at the Bellevue Courthouse, said Harnden, and has avoided capture the longest. One escaped inmate was located by a K-9 hiding near the perimeter of the courthouse and another fleeing inmate was caught attempting to steal a getaway vehicle in a nearby neighborhood in 2000.

"Every indication was that this was a planned event and (Downs) clearly had help," said Harnden.

Police records state Hillis was contacted by Downs the day of his escape, who directed her to enter the courthouse and request information about his hearing. Witnesses and court employees identified Hillis doing so, and law enforcement has recordings of the calls made by Downs from a jail phone.

When Downs made his escape, there was only one police support officer in charge of transporting him and the other inmate. Police support officers are not armed, said Harnden, but receive the same academy training as Washington Department of Corrections officers.

"We're looking at her options," said Harnden of the PSO. "We're still working on that."

Police support officers also use their own discretion in determining whether to chain inmates together, she said, which depends on the number of officers and inmates present during transfers.

Harnden said the department is looking at ways to get better information about the inmates being transported beforehand to better prepare and has already increased staffing on transports in the interim.

The city of Bellevue has a new lease to relocate district court and probation services to the Bellefield Building at 114th Avenue Southeast, which must be accomplished before spring 2015.

A court relocation committee met Feb. 18 and is in the initial phase of designing security for the new facility. The current courthouse has no closed off intake bay for inmates, and they are currently unloaded on the sidewalk in front of the building.

"When you look around at district courts in King County, and I've been to many, they aren't any different," Harnden said.

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