Inmate briefly escapes custody at courthouse

Published 1:06 pm Saturday, September 5, 2015

Attorney helps capture escaped inmate in Austin

By Jason Schoonover, Austin Daily Herald

AUSTIN — A Rochester defense attorney helped law enforcement apprehend an inmate who briefly escaped a courtroom of the Mower County Jail and Justice Center Friday afternoon.

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Austin J. Swisher of Rochester’s Swisher Law Firm was talking with a client in the second level hallway of the justice center after a hearing when the door of the courtroom burst open, hitting his clients mother, before an inmate in an orange jumpsuit ran out with a deputy in close pursuit.

“Out of instinct I decided to help him, help the deputy,” Swisher said.

Swisher and the deputy chased the inmate, who has not yet been identified, through the county parking lot south of the justice center toward Oakland Avenue. Swisher, who tries to keep in shape by going to the gym, said the inmate was running at a good pace before tiring out after a few blocks.

“It put me to the test,” Swisher said. “It was a flat, dead sprint. He was running; he was quite determined, I think, to make it to freedom.”

Swisher caught up to the man first before he was helped by an off duty cop who happened to be in the area. Though he’d seen disruptions and uncooperative witnesses in court before, Swisher said he’d never seen anything like Friday’s incident, noting he was surprised by how forceful the courthouse door flew open during the escape.

Swisher has several Mower County clients and works frequently in Mower County. He said sometimes members of the public get the misconception that defense attorneys aren’t tuned into public safety, which he said isn’t the case.

“Obviously we care about public safety just like anyone else does,” Swisher said.

Though winded, Swisher continued meeting with his client after the chase before returning for further work in Rochester.

Coordinator Craig Oscarson said the Mower County Sheriff’s Office and courthouse officials will investigate the incident and review policies and procedures to see what could be potentially done differently in the future.

Law enforcement officials were not immediately available for comment.