Malfunctioning control panel helped Orangeburg inmates escape, county says

Three inmates escaped from the Orangeburg County Detention Center Saturday night. (Source: WIS)
Three inmates escaped from the Orangeburg County Detention Center Saturday night. (Source: WIS)
Tyshon Demontrea Johnson (Source: Orangeburg Co. Sheriff's Office)
Tyshon Demontrea Johnson (Source: Orangeburg Co. Sheriff's Office)
Christopher Shannon Boltin (Source: Orangeburg Co. Sheriff's Office)
Christopher Shannon Boltin (Source: Orangeburg Co. Sheriff's Office)

ORANGEBURG, SC (WCSC) - Four inmates attempted to take advantage of a malfunctioning control panel at the Orangeburg County Detention Center Saturday night and three successfully escaped the facility.

Christopher Boltin, 27; Curtis Ray Green, 20; and Tyshon Demontrea Johnson, 27, escaped the facility shortly before 10 p.m. Saturday, according to Orangeburg County Sheriff Leroy Ravenell.

Boltin was captured Sunday night in Lexington County, but Green and Johnson remained at large.

A short in a control panel allowed the doors of four cells to open, according to County Administrator Harold Young. A corrections officer noticed several inmates' cell doors had opened and immediately tried to corral them back into their cells.

"The four individuals took that opportunity to jump that officer," Young said. "They got his mace and maced him in the face."

One of the inmates then went to the panel and began pressing all buttons to effect an escape, Young said.

The inmates were not shackled because they were in their normal housing pod at the time. Young said they were able to use sheets from bedding in their cells to cover the barbed wire.

But despite the officer's injuries, he was able to get to the panel and re-secure the pod, keeping more inmates from leaving their cells, Young said. One of the four was captured before he could escape the facility.

At a news conference Sunday afternoon, Ravenell said they have no way of knowing how far the escapees have gotten.

Young says other inmates told investigators the escape had been planned and claimed the escapees said if they were ever able to escape, they would head to Florida.

However, Young insists all leads are being followed.

"The search is wide open," he said. "We've received several calls and we're following up on each one."

Young praised the county's law enforcement in their quick response to the incident.

"We're lucky because of the dedication and training of our law enforcement, we have a member of the team on the U.S. Task Force for the Marshals Office, so we're familiar with the procedure in a case such as this."

Young said they take the community's safety very seriously, pointing out that authorities notified the sheriff's office, the media and posted on social media as soon as they realized there was the possibility of an escape. They also immediately called in the State Law Enforcement Division and other agencies and had been transparent with the public throughout the process, he said.

Deputies were notified at 9:38 p.m. Saturday of a possible escape and the assault of a correction officer, Ravenell said. The sheriff's office posted an advisory on social media at approximately 10 p.m. Saturday alerting the public about the investigation into a possible escape. That was before a head count at the jail was complete. Once that was done, the information about the number of inmates who had escaped and their identities was released.

County facilities face challenges leaving inmates searching for the right moment to act

Young said a backlog in court cases and an improving economy are creating difficult challenges for county jails.

The slowdown in prosecution, he says, means some inmates are being kept in holding facilities like the Orangeburg County Detention Center for up to a year or more.

The improving economy means people are finding better opportunities than work as a corrections officer, which leads to a manpower shortage in jails across the state.

Combined, the two leave inmates searching for any opportunity. Many, he says, realize a county jail is the last stop before a trial and, if convicted, transport to a much tougher facility that would be harder to escape.

"If they're going to make a move and do something, they're going to do it at the lowest level," Young said. "That's because they feel like they have nothing to lose."

Young said a new $30 million facility is being constructed near the current, aging facility.

The injured officer was treated and released from the hospital that night, Young said.

Ravenell said Johnson was apprehended on a murder charge in October 2017 by Orangeburg County deputies and U.S. Marshals. Green was charged in a March 20, 2015, murder case, he said. Boltin was charged in connection with a carjacking in January 2018.

As of Monday afternoon, officials are still following up on leads on the whereabouts of Green and Johnson.

"These two are dangerous," Young said, repeating an earlier plea from Ravenell for people to immediately report anything they see that looks suspicious.

If anyone has any information on any of the suspects or the incident, you are urged to call the OCSO immediately at 803-534-3550 or Crimestoppers at 1-888-CRIME-SC. Callers can remain anonymous.

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