JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Authorities hunted Wednesday for four inmates, including one suspected of killing a man and stealing his pickup truck, who escaped over the weekend from a Mississippi jail that has been under federal scrutiny.
Multiple law enforcement agencies were searching parts of the state, with at least one county sheriff’s department telling residents to "please keep your doors locked and have no keys or weapons in your vehicles" following unconfirmed reports that the man was spotted in the area.
The U.S. Marshals service and the Mississippi Bureau of Investigations are among the agencies assisting in the search.
Police said Anthony Watts, 61, was shot and killed Monday night around 7 p.m. on Interstate 55 in Jackson after he pulled over to help a man who had wrecked a motorcycle. Police say that man shot Watts several times and then stole his Red Dodge Ram. Watts died at the scene.
"Based on information gathered from investigators, the suspect … fit the description of 22-year-old Dylan Arrington," Jackson Police Chief James E. Davis said.
Arrington is one of four prisoners — along with Casey Grayson, Corey Harrison and Jerry Raynes — who escaped Saturday night from the Raymond Detention Center, a facility near Jackson, through breaches in a cell and the roof. Hinds County Sheriff Tyree Jones said the men might have camped out on the roof before fleeing the facility and going their separate ways.
The four were in custody for various felony charges, most involving theft. Arrington had charges of auto theft and illegal possession of a firearm, WAPT-TV reported.
Watts’ stolen Red Dodge Ram, which has tan trim and Cowboys stickers on the front and the back, was last seen heading south on I-55 in Terry, Mississippi, police said.
Jones said one of the prisoners stole a Hinds County Public Works vehicle that was later recovered in a suburb of Houston. Investigators also believe a stolen Chevy Silverado is connected to the escape. None of the men had been captured as of Tuesday afternoon.
"Be extra cautious, be vigilant of anything that appears to be suspicious," Jones said Tuesday. "Make sure you get on the phone" and notify local police.
"No information at this point is too small to provide to law enforcement," he said.
In July, a federal judge ordered a rare takeover of the jail after he said deficiencies in supervision and staffing led to "a stunning array of assaults, as well as deaths."
Seven people died last year while detained at the jail, U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves said. Reeves wrote in his ruling that cell doors did not lock and a lack of lighting in cells makes life "miserable for the detainees who live there and prevents guards from adequately surveilling detainees."
He also said guards sometimes slept instead of monitoring the cameras in the control room.
Federal and state judges had only ordered receiverships or similar transfers of control for prisons and jails about eight times before Reeves' order, according to Hernandez Stroud, an attorney at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law.
But just days before the appointed receiver was scheduled to assume control over the jail on Jan. 1, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals stayed the lower court's order until it ruled on the county's motion for reconsideration.
The court was to examine whether the lower court's injunction complies with the Prison Litigation Reform Act, a 1996 federal law that places restrictions on lawsuits brought by prisoners.
Hinds County Sheriff Tyree Jones said in December that county officials were committed to fixing the issues at the jail, many of which stem from staffing shortages.
Hinds County officials applauded the stay. Attorneys for the county said the receiver would be "utterly unaccountable" to voters and taxpayers.