Security measures reviewed following Sunday escape

Authorities are tightening security at the East Baton Rouge Parish Violent Crimes Unit after a handcuffed shooting suspect escaped through the ceiling of a holding cell and remained at large for several hours before police recaptured him early Monday.

The escape, which detectives noticed about 8:50 p.m. Sunday, surprised law enforcement officials and exposed vulnerabilities in the facility that officials were hastily working to remedy.

The Violent Crimes Unit, located behind State Police headquarters on Independence Boulevard, is shared by a contingent of area law enforcement agencies that focus on homicides and other major assaults. Some of the city’s most violent criminals are housed there temporarily in holding cells before being taken to Parish Prison.

“Certainly, it’s disturbing that it happened,” said Capt. Doug Cain, a State Police spokesman. “The thing to remember is that we are not a detention facility. It’s incumbent upon the arresting officers to maintain security on those individuals.”

Baton Rouge police had arrested the suspect, Ryan Boatner, for his alleged role in an armed robbery and residential shootout that left several people wounded earlier Sunday.

Boatner, 27, 4751 Wilma St., Baton Rouge, is accused of driving to a home on Charles Street with two other men — supposedly to buy marijuana — and robbing four people at gunpoint, rifling through their pockets for cash and cellphones while they lay on the ground.

Two victims shot in the robbery were later taken to Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center. One of Boatner’s accomplices suffered life-threatening injuries in an exchange of gunfire and Boatner was taken into custody after the trio drove to Baton Rouge General Medical Center-Mid City to seek treatment for the wounded man.

Boatner and Warren Jackson, 27, 3457 Fairwoods Drive, Baton Rouge, were taken to the Violent Crimes Unit to be interrogated about the shooting.

Still handcuffed, Boatner had been placed inside a holding cell when detectives “left out approximately four to five minutes,” Police Chief Carl Dabadie said.

The 5-foot-9, 132-pound man damaged a light fixture and climbed out of the cell through the ceiling. From there, authorities said, he dropped down into an adjacent hallway and made his way out of the building, disappearing into the frigid night.

“We’re obviously going to fix that issue and make that more secure,” Cain said of the ceiling. “We’ve been here in this building for 10 years and it’s never happened before.”

Dabadie said it does not appear his officers ran afoul of any departmental protocols in briefly leaving Boatner unattended, though he noted the investigation is continuing.

He said investigators believe Boatner managed to slide out of his handcuffs, a feat Dabadie said is possible among persons who are double-jointed.

“You try to plan for everything when you’re developing these rooms and you’re setting them up for prisoner interviews,” Dabadie said. “But when you have someone who is facing what they fear are very dire circumstances, people tend to do things that they wouldn’t normally do and tend to have abilities that they wouldn’t normally have.

“When you have people running from the police,” he added, “I’ve seen them fit through some very small places that you wouldn’t think people could fit through.”

The escape prompted a manhunt that involved road closures, tracking dogs, a police helicopter and the department’s Special Response Team, all braving sub-freezing temperatures. Boatner was found about 2:15 a.m. in a backyard in the 8300 block of Greenmoss Avenue, less than a mile from State Police headquarters.

He was booked with four counts of principal to attempted first-degree murder, armed robbery, simple escape and criminal damage to property.

Law enforcement officials planned to meet in the coming days to consider additional security changes at the Violent Crimes Unit.

“If we see that there is a need for a change, then we’ll definitely change it,” Dabadie said. “It’s an unfortunate incident, but we don’t want it ever to happen again.”