By John L. Ross / Staff Writer
A Whitley County Detention Center inmate walked away from a work detail Monday, and that has led to several questions concerning information sharing among two Whitley County departments — the sheriff’s department and the jail.
Whitley County Jailer Ken Mobley confirmed Shannon Wynn, 34, jailed for charges of manufacturing methamphetamine, left “off a work release (program) at the Kentucky State Highway Garage.” This happened about 12:30 p.m. during a lunch break at the garage, he said.
“We’ve been looking for him ever since,” Mobley added.
Wednesday night, Mobley said law enforcement “got close” to capturing Wynn in a wooded area near KY 92, but he got away.
According to the Whitley County Circuit Court clerk’s office, Wynn was given a bench warrant March 26 for both failing to appear for court and failing to pay fines from previous convictions.
Mobley explained the protocol his jail follows upon the discovery of a missing inmate.
“Right after (Wynn) walked we called 911 Dispatch,” he said. “There were two deputies in the booking area, and they were handed sheets (concerning Wynn’s escape).”
One of those deputies, Mobley said, was Shawn Jackson.
Besides the dispatchers, Mobley also said state police were notified, as well as the Williamsburg Police Department. Mobley added that Wynn’s information was given to the National Crime Information Center. He said that NCIC spreads the word not only to local agencies and statewide, but also “from Florida up to Canada — it’s nationwide.”
But Whitley County Sheriff Colan Harrell said he learned of the escape not from jail officials — but from a citizen in the community asking how the search was going Tuesday night.
“I felt like I was in ‘The Twilight Zone,’” Harrell said Wednesday. “This is nothing but ‘good ol’ boy’ stuff.”
Harrell said not only was the sheriff’s department “never notified,” but when he contacted Kentucky State Police, he said they were unaware of Wynn’s escape.
He did receive official notice via fax at 11:54 a.m. Tuesday — an arrest warrant notice from Frankfort, signed by Jeff Burton with the Kentucky Department of Corrections.
“That’s one full day later,” Harrell said. “Where could he go in that time?”
Harrell expressed concern that someone with a criminal history like Wynn would be permitted to participate in a work-release program. “He was convicted of manufacturing meth,” Harrell said. “While probated for that, (KSP Trooper) David Lassiter caught him manufacturing meth again, and he got a bunch of other charges on him then, too.”
That arrest came in January.
“The rules for the work release program have to be looked at a little harder,” Harrell said. “(These crews) work around the courthouse, and I have known them to work on or near school facilities.”
Mobley said that he has crews which perform various duties for the county, including road crews who pick up litter and garbage and crews that do county mowing. “I’ve got a crew in Corbin at the recycling department, too,” Mobley said, adding work release crews sometimes do beautification work for the Tourism Office.
Concerning Wynn’s assignment at the state garage, Mobley said the garage has a contract for inmates “to work directly” with the Kentucky Department of Transportation to clean up debris from storm damage, clean out culverts, clear trees or mudslide material.
But Mobley admitted this wasn’t the first escape from the Detention Center. “We’ve had five or six (inmates escape), and the jail recaptured them with no help from the sheriff’s department,” Mobley said. He added that when two inmates, Tracy Sisk and Jessie Terry, escaped, his jail personnel “spent 12 days and nights” searching for them before their recapture.
“The KSP was there, Constable (Ron) Bowling, the Williamsburg Police Department — but no sheriff’s department whatsoever have helped,” Mobley said.
He reiterated that the deputies seen in the booking area were told of Wynn’s escape. “I can’t help it if they don’t tell (Harrell),” Mobley said. “But Whitley (Sheriff’s Department) has never helped us with a walk-off.”
“I have yet to see a sheriff car on any walk-off,” Mobley added. “And this time it ain’t going to be no different.”
But Harrell said he would be glad to help. “It’s hard to assist when we are not made aware (of an inmate’s escape),” Harrell said. “And I really question telling (the deputies) since the warrant was not issued until (April) 2nd.”
He believes the community should be quickly warned if an inmate becomes a fugitive. “If I asked the people if this is the way they wanted it, I’m pretty sure most of them would say ‘no,’” Harrell said. “I’m sure this is not what the people in the community want — they want more responsibility in decision making.”
Harrell also feels it was too soon to allow Wynn a work-release detail, adding he felt Wynn’s charges should have kept him behind bars. “This blows my mind,” Harrell said. “In January he got his second charges of making meth, and in March, he’s certified as a trusty.”
He questioned the decision to allow Wynn to be a trusty.
“If these are the rules (for allowing an inmate to become a trusty), then they need to be changed,” Harrell said. “This is awful.”
According to Mobley, there are three classification levels for inmates, and those are determined by the state Department of Corrections. Both Level 1 and Level 2 classified inmates are permitted to work outside of the jail facility — Level 3 must remain behind locked doors.
“They (the D.O.C.) classify the inmates,” Mobley said, adding the D.O.C. is supplied inmate information to determine the classification.
Mobley said Wynn was classified as a Level 1 inmate. “All Level 1 inmates can go out and work in the community,” he said.
But in the event those trusties do leave their work detail, Harrell feels a better policy should be in place. “Any time the Department of Corrections or the Detention Center want a policy written up on how to get the word out, let me know,” Harrell said.
Wynn is not officially considered “armed and dangerous,” however, Harrell said people “should be very very cautious about approaching him.”
Mobley said law enforcement will continue the search.
If any citizen knows the location of Wynn, contact the jail at (606) 549-6027, or sheriff’s department at (606) 549-6006, or 911 dispatch.