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Inmate Makes a Rope Out of Sheets to Escape From 14th Floor of Jail

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A parolee awaiting trial on robbery and drug charges escaped from the Hall of Justice jail in downtown Los Angeles on Thursday, rappelling 14 stories down a rope made of about 60 bedsheets, authorities said.

Scarcely eight hours after the early morning escape--and before it had been announced by sheriff’s officials--a man claiming to be the parolee telephoned The Times to brag about the feat and express outrage that it had been so “easy.”

“This is a maximum-security place, you know, and I want everyone to know how easy it was,” said the caller. “I can’t believe the sheriffs haven’t told you yet--why those dirty dogs.”

While the caller accurately related many details about the escape and the parolee’s background, he was wrong about some things and it was not possible to verify that he was the escapee.

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A Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department spokesman identified the escapee as Ahmad Shelton, 26, formerly of Moreno Valley. Shelton escaped about 3:30 a.m. while working in a kitchen on the 14th floor of the Hall of Justice jail.

Guards detected the escape about a half-hour later when they discovered a rope of approximately 60 bedsheets hanging out of the kitchen window, Deputy Rich Erickson said.

“Just like the movies,” Erickson said.

The metal security panel on the window had been pried open, and blood was found on the sill, he said.

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About 11:15 a.m. Thursday, The Times received a call from a man who announced he had broken out of the Hall of Justice facility by climbing out a 14th-floor window and shimmying down a rope of bedsheets. Fearful the call would be traced, the man hung up, but called again later from what he said was a public telephone booth.

“The chance was there . . . so I decided to take off,” he said. “I saved my sheets and I left . . . I tied them together, threw them out and went down. Boom.

“I burned my legs, you know, from climbing down, like rug burns.”

The caller gave his name as Ahmad but would not give a last name. In yet a third telephone call, he said he was in Frogtown, a nickname for a neighborhood near Dodger Stadium.

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About 35 to 40 inmates were working in the kitchen at the time Shelton escaped, sheriff’s spokesmen said. The early morning shift prepares breakfast for prisoners who are being transported to court.

Los Angeles police arrested Shelton on April 4 on suspicion of possession of a controlled substance, Erickson said. A separate warrant for Shelton’s arrest on robbery charges was also issued. He was scheduled to appear in court next week on both charges, and his bail had been set at $27,000.

Shelton was on parole for armed robbery when he was arrested. His records also show an earlier conviction for petty theft.

Erickson said Shelton will be charged with felony escape when he is captured. He was described as a white male with brown hair and brown eyes. He is 5 feet, 7 inches tall and weighs 165 pounds.

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Escapes from Los Angeles County’s massive, overcrowded jail system, which crams 23,000 inmates into a dozen facilities, are not uncommon. Dozens of “miss-outs"--prisoners who authorities lose track of--are recorded every day because of computer foul-ups or mistakes made when inmates are bused to court. But Shelton’s escape by leaping from a 14th floor was more spectacular than most.

“I wouldn’t want to rappel down 14 stories,” Erickson said. “I remember an inmate tried it a few years ago, slipped on the rope, and he died. All you have to do is fall three or four stories to get pretty crunched up.

“With 14 floors, unless you’re wearing a Superman cape, you can have a problem.”

On Thursday afternoon, workers could be seen installing metal bars on some of the windows of the jail, which occupies floors nine through 14 of the 14-story Hall of Justice building.

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Times researcher Cecilia Rasmussen contributed to this story.


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