A senior Superior Court judge heard arguments Wednesday involving two terminated Hall County Sheriff’s Office deputies and an inmate who escaped in July 2013.
Former deputies Jack Dodd and Larry Henslee were fired a week after the escape of James Edward Cantrell on July 16, 2013, during a transport from the Hall County Jail to the courthouse.
Following two reversals by the Hall County Civil Service Board, Hall County Sheriff Gerald Couch appealed the ruling, saying the board’s decision was not supported by fact.
“It was not the result of some elaborate escape scheme like ‘Escape from Alcatraz.’ It was simply a matter of an inmate being able to walk away,” said Couch’s co-counsel Bill Buechner.
County Attorney Bill Blalock and Buechner began their arguments to Piedmont Circuit Judge Robert W. Adamson with video presentations of the transport on the day of Cantrell’s escape.
Adamson was assigned on Jan. 22 following the voluntary recusal of the Northeastern Judicial Circuit Superior Court judges.
While exiting, Cantrell is seen sneaking to the right of the inmate procession and hiding in an alcove.
Cantrell escaped in a pickup truck and was at large for five days.
Dodd, who represented himself and Henslee, said the issue they faced was a lack of adequate staffing, as transporters must maintain a 5:1 ratio. Dodd said he had been denied extra help on multiple occasions prior to the escape.
In the video, four deputies — Dodd, Henslee and two others — walk through the sally port. Dodd said he was unaware during the transport that there were two other officers present.
“If he didn’t know two other officers were there, that shows he was completely unaware of his surroundings,” Buechner said.
Dodd said he didn’t turn around so he could look for potential threats.
“That loading area was on a public street in a public area,” he said.
Adamson asked about previous complaints and whether there was any evidence previously entered into the record on compliance with the rules.
Cantrell was supposedly injured and needed a knee operation, which was the reason he was not shackled. He was not shackled to any other inmate, as had been done in the past with other inmates, Buechner said.
Dodd added that other officers involved that day share some of the fault in the escape.
“Had they been knowledgeable in the policy that was there, we could have handled it,” Dodd said.
Adamson raised concerns with how the inmates were accounted for when they were loaded on the bus to go back to the jail.
“When I put them on the bus, I’d say I got Smith, Jones and these other people by name,” Adamson said.
“The point at which you crank up the engine is a critical point,” he added.
Adamson requested the transcripts and reports before making his decision, which could take a few weeks.