MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

July 30, 2013

Jail escapees recaptured within hours

Arrests made without resistance

— WAGONER  — A multiagency hunt for two inmates who escaped Monday night from the Wagoner County Jail ended shortly before noon Tuesday, fewer than 15 hours after the prisoners overpowered a jailer.

Larry Gene Cotton Jr., 25, of Wagoner was arrested without incident early Tuesday at the city’s Autumn Wood Apartments. Mickey Staggs, 38, of Catoosa was arrested shortly before noon just west of Taylor’s Ferry while walking along Oklahoma 51.

The two men escaped from the Wagoner County Jail after they lured a guard into their cell  about 9 p.m. Monday under the pretense of a maintenance problem. Once inside, Cotton and Staggs overpowered the guard and took the keys needed to make their escape.

Wagoner County Sheriff Bob Colbert said the jailer, who is relatively new to the job, sustained minor injuries that included “some knots on his head and bruises.” The jailer, Colbert said, is taking a couple of days off to recover from the injuries. He was not identified.

“You can imagine, getting taken down in the jail — that is a scary situation anyway,” Colbert said Tuesday morning. “To be overpowered like that, locked in the cell and your keys taken away from you — I’m sure he saw his life flashing before him.”

Colbert said the escape, which he believes was coordinated and planned based upon a review of inmate telephone calls, occurred at a fairly busy time. He said prisoners were being booked in, and Cotton and Staggs “knew this was the right time to try to make this move.”

Once the inmates had the keys, Colbert said, it was a short distance from the pod in which they were being held, down a hallway, through the kitchen and out the back door. Colbert said jailers and deputies reacted as he would expect, but jail procedures will be reviewed to determine where improvements might be made.

“We have an obligation to the residents of the city and this county to keep them safe, and we are going to do that,” he said. “We didn’t take this lightly — again, we have an obligation to the public to keep them safe. We will go over all of our training and see if there is anything we are missing.”

Online court documents show both men had been bound over in July to stand trial for felony charges that involved firearms. Law enforcers considered both men dangerous, but both were unarmed and submitted to arrest without resistance.

Cotton, who was being held on a $100,000 bond, faces trial for allegedly possessing a firearm after being convicted of a felony, possession of a stolen vehicle and endangering the public while trying to elude police. Staggs, who was being held on a reduced bond of $50,000, faces trial for allegedly possessing a firearm after a former felony conviction, possessing a firearm during the commission of a felony and possessing a stolen vehicle.

Wagoner County prosecutors filed new charges Tuesday against both men. Those charges include escape, assault and battery upon a detention officer, kidnapping and first-degree robbery. No bonds have been set for those charges.

Despite the gravity of concern before Cotton and Staggs had been captured, Colbert said the incident provided some comic relief. Colbert described the videotaped images of the inmates’ escape as almost “comical.”

“We found their clothes scattered everywhere around the jail — they were throwing shoes and clothes as they were running, so they left a pretty good trail and told us which direction to start looking,” Colbert said during a press conference after Cotton’s capture. “They were falling over each other and falling in the street; it definitely would be one for the most stupid criminal video.”

On a more serious note, Colbert said overcrowded conditions at the jail may have played some part in the escape. He said the jail, which has a capacity of 101, had 109 prisoners Monday night.  

“We have the same problems that other jails have — it’s simple math,” he said. “These are criminals you are watching — a lot of these guys are just knuckleheads who end up in jail, but a lot of them are serious criminals that have to be kept off the streets.”

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.

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