Bars on windows pay off at jail

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 16, 2002

Another escape from the county jail was prevented this week. The inmate used the same method as two previous jail breaks &045; detaching a window panel from the frame &045; but this time, thanks to window bars installed after the last escape, the attempt was not realized.

County Attorney Craig Nelson charged county jail inmate Jason Carl Olson, 19, of Austin with criminal property damage for vandalizing a window in the jail Thursday.

According to the criminal complaint, Olson kicked loose the window in another inmate’s cell around 2 p.m. Tuesday. The window was on the east side of the Law Enforcement Center building just above the police squad car parking area.

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An Albert Lea Police Department officer heard banging sounds and saw flakes coming down from the window upstairs, and reported it to the jail.

The window was in a cell in the medium-security zone, where solitary cells are located around a common day room.

Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office deputies found the window panel, about 7.5 inches wide and 60 inches tall, detached from the frame and kicked out. But the steel bars placed outside the window held the panel, and prevented the opened space from becoming wide enough to escape through. A wooden shelf support stolen from the library was found under the bed mattress. Investigators suspect it was used to loosen the panel.

When the deputies arrived at the scene, nobody was in the cell. The inmate assigned to the cell was using a payphone in the common area.

Based on interviews with the inmates, the deputies identified Olson, who was assigned to another cell in the same block, as the perpetrator. The cells are not locked during the day and inmates can freely go out to the common space.

Before the deputies arrived, Olson was seen jumping up onto a table in the common area, beating his chest, and tossing his arms in the air like a victory sign. And then, he ran back to into the cell.

Olson was in the jail for a burglary charge for which he had pleaded guilty. According to the complaint, he broke into a liquor shop in Hollandale and stole beer and whiskey in March. The sentencing for the charge was scheduled on Oct. 7.

In two previous escapes, inmates tied together sheets into a rope to lower themselves down from the upper floor, but in this case, deputies did not find any prepared rope.

Olson could also face attempted escape charges if authorities determine his attempt to get free was a serious one.

The county invested about $6,000 in February to place the iron bars outside all 26 windows in the jail after Jason Patrick Tope, who was charged for producing methamphetamine, escaped by prying open the window in his cell February. Tope was caught in St. Paul about a month later.

In July 2000, three inmates escaped through a window in the minimum security zone, but all were found and arrested.

In a planned new county jail and judicial center, the jail portion will be covered by two layers of wall so the inmates will not have direct access to the outside from the cells.