Murder suspects who escaped Lerdo created makeshift dummies they placed in their bunks: reports

Crime Watch

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — The two murder suspects who escaped Lerdo Jail in April got a head start by filling bags with liquid and beanies with newspaper to create makeshift dummies they covered with blankets, giving the appearance they were asleep in their bunks.

It wasn’t until an emergency head count was conducted almost an hour after an initial count was ordered that detentions deputies discovered the men were gone and found a hole cut in the ceiling of their cell, according to court documents released Tuesday.

The documents filed by the sheriff’s office detail the actions jail staff took as they searched for David Palms and Tyrone Johnson, each facing murder and other charges in the shooting death of 3-year-old Major Sutton.

Palms, 22, was recaptured hours later at a Dollar General store on Lerdo Highway near Highway 43. Johnson, 24, remains at large.

Sheriff’s officials declined to comment on the documents because an internal investigation is ongoing. Sheriff Donny Youngblood has called the escape “embarrassing.”

The first hint detentions deputies had that anything was wrong came about 1:40 a.m. April 28, when the documents say a detentions sergeant radioed, “Master Control is there a maintenance unit on the roof?”

Minutes later, a senior detentions deputy thought he heard a sound on the roof above his desk.

“The sound was weak and sounded like an animal walking around on the roof,” the detentions deputy said in the reports. “It is not uncommon for wild animals such as raccoons or cats to access secured areas within the Lerdo compound.”

Jail staff went to the back of the facility and climbed a staircase to the roof while other staff counted inmates. Detentions deputies found no one on the roof.

At 1:48 a.m. the main gate deputy radioed, “Movement on the south side of the facility, possible animals,” the reports say. Deputies drove around the perimeter looking for anything out of the ordinary.

Just after 2 a.m., the head count for the Justice Facility finished and everyone appeared to be in their bunk, according to the documents. Pre-Trial’s head count was completed at 2:19 a.m. with everyone accounted for.

It wasn’t until 2:36 a.m. that an escape was confirmed after a review of surveillance footage showed two men walk across the Justice Facility main entrance roof and slide down flag poles outside the building, according to the reports. The men ran south wearing only white boxer shorts and white shoes.

Staff locked down the facility and carried out an emergency head count with deputies waking up each inmate.

When they got to the cell housing Palms and Johnson, deputies saw what appeared to be an inmate in the top bunk and another in the bottom bunk covered with their blankets, according to the documents. There was no response when deputies ordered them to uncover themselves.

Deputies opened the cell and pulled back the blankets, revealing bags of liquid in the shape of a body underneath.

“There were also newspapers and toilet paper rolled up in the shape of a head, inside of a beanie,” the documents say. “Shoes were filled with socks and set up to make it look like someone was laying on the bunk. All of this was done to give the impression that the inmates were laying on these bunks.”

Searching the cell, the deputies found an 18-by-18-inch hole in the ceiling where the metal had been cut and pulled down, leading to a crawl space and air ducts, according to the reports. Rope and torn clothing were found in the crawl space. A metal sheet and pieces of metal were found under the bottom bunk.

A message written on the cell wall may have been a taunt aimed at jail staff. “Now you see” was written on the east wall, “now you don’t” on the west wall, the documents say.

Patrol deputies, police dogs and the sheriff’s helicopter were requested, and the Shafter Police Department notified, the filings say.

Shafter police arrested Palms about 6:14 a.m. at the Dollar General at 337 E. Lerdo Highway. He was taken to sheriff’s office headquarters on Norris Road for questioning.

Deputies pressed Palms for information on how he got out, but he was uncooperative, the filings say.

He claimed a deputy opened his cell door and he took the opportunity to run, but was unable to provide a description of the deputy, according to the filings. He denied being on the roof of the facility or even escaping despite his arrest at the Dollar General.

A residential burglary that occurred the morning of the escape is believed connected to the men.

A resident woke up to find a man running through the backyard, according to the documents. The resident told investigators he then went outside and found a man trying to steal his car.

The resident chased the man — described only as a Black male — and grabbed a backpack from him before the burglar got away, according to the documents. The backpack belonged to the resident and contained his Chromebook and car keys, which had been taken from a kitchen counter, the filings say.

The burglar got in the house through an unlocked window and went through several rooms before leaving.

“At some point, the Black male removed white boxer shorts in the laundry room and got dressed in (redacted) workpants and her sweatshirt,” according to the reports. “The male got food out of the refrigerator and left some of the food on the laundry room floor. The male walked to the couch where (redacted) was sleeping and took his cellular phone.”

Crime scene investigators seized evidence including blood left on a door handle of the car.

The charges Palms and Johnson face stem from a shooting that occurred Nov. 10, 2017, when two men kicked down the door of the home of Major’s family. They opened fire, killing the boy and wounding his pregnant mother and then-5-year-old brother.

The shooting is believed to be gang-related. Major’s mother was living with a documented West Side Crips gang member, and both Johnson and Palms are members of the rival East Side Crips.

A third defendant, Myeisha Dale, was accused of driving Johnson and Palms from the scene. Charges against her were dismissed following her death in March.

Dale’s cause of death has not been released.

Johnson is considered armed and dangerous, and anyone who sees him is asked not to approach him and to call 911.

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