There no longer will be volunteer trusties used outside the confines of the Franklin County Jail.
That was determined by Franklin County Sheriff’s Department administrators in the wake of last week’s escape of Ricky A. Johnson Jr., 37, an inmate serving as a kitchen trusty at the Franklin County Jail.
“We have discontinued the use of trusties and it doesn’t look like that will change,” Sheriff Steve Pelton told The Missourian. “It is not worth the trouble.”
Johnson was volunteering in the jail kitchen Wednesday, April 25, about 6 a.m. when he seized an opportunity and fled through an open kitchen door and then through a gate.
The inmate was being held on probation violations from 2015 felony charges. In that case, he was caught on tape in June 2015 allegedly burglarizing the Finish Line Cafe on Highway 30, Lonedell.
Trusties who have been charged with nonviolent crimes had been permitted to conduct work duties in the jail. They are not paid for the work.
“These trusties are minimum security,” Pelton noted. “He went from a little bit of trouble to a whole lot of trouble.”
Johnson was caught about eight hours after he fled from the jail’s kitchen. He was spotted by a citizen running near the intersection of Denmark and Prairie Dell roads in Union.
He was charged the same day in Franklin County Associate Circuit Court with a felony of escaping confinement. Bail was set at $100,000 and he still is in custody at the jail.
Inmates charged with driving while intoxicated offenses or lesser crimes, mostly misdemeanor, had been eligible to be outdoor trusties where they could mow the lawn, clean, maintain the jail property or other duties.
“Trusties is a loose term,” Pelton added. “They are here for a reason.”
Now, none of those volunteer opportunities are available to inmates.
However, inside the jail walls, jobs like laundry duty and some cleaning still will be conducted by inmates.
Pelton said there have been trusties used in Franklin County for many years, and before the current jail opened.
“Most jails in the nation use them, to help cut costs,” he said.
There had been two other trusties who escaped custody since the jail opened in 1986.
“This has happened in the past,” Pelton noted. “We will not put that burden back on the citizens again.”
This is the second time in 32 years that an inmate escaped from inside the detention center. The first incident occurred in 1986 under Sheriff Paul Bruns. That escapee was captured.
Then, a few years ago under Sheriff Gary Toelke, an outside trusty walked away from the sheriff’s department. He also was quickly apprehended when staff noticed he was gone, Pelton said.
According to Pelton, about 16 additional officers commissioned by the sheriff’s department were called into assist with the manhunt for Johnson.
He explained that some deputies were not available to work because they had just finished shifts.
In addition to the sheriff’s office staff — including the Multi-County Narcotics and Violent Crimes Unit and Franklin County SWAT Team — officers from police forces in Union, Washington, St. Clair and Pacific also joined in the search.
Also responding to the county was the United States Marshal Services, the Missouri State Highway Patrol and search dog teams from St. Louis County, St. Charles County and the Missouri Department of Corrections (MDC).
There was a total of about 50 people assisting in the search. In addition there were two helicopters that also provided support.
Other than paying for additional sheriff’s department staff or overtime hours for deputies, there was no extra cost for the county. That’s due to mutual aid agreements between the sheriff’s department and other agencies.
Pelton added that reimbursements are available, often through grants, to pay for the fuel used by the helicopters utilized in the search.
“I am grateful to every agency that sent officers and that would have sent more,” he said.
The sheriff’s office will incur costs now that there is no inmate trusties working in the kitchen. Pelton explained that deputies are helping to cover some shifts, and the three kitchen staff members may get overtime. He added that the department still is exploring options to address the kitchen needs.
Last week’s escape has prompted a deeper look into the new jail facility slated for construction next spring.
“With the new facility we will make sure that the double-locked areas are secure,” Pelton said.
He stated that those safety measures at the new jail already have been planned, but the incident last week has caused officials to take a second look to ensure that no inmate has an opportunity to get free.
At the new facility, through Prop P tax revenue, there will be more safeguards to prevent escape attempts.