ROME, Ga. – A Floyd County inmate who escaped—and later found—used a common office supply to flee from his shackles, from deputies and ultimately away from the courthouse.
Chief Deputy Tom Caldwell said escaped inmate Dustin Cotton told him, after he was captured, that he used a paperclip to free himself, eluding police, Monday just before noon.
Caldwell said that they recognize that there was security breach in the form of human error and it was rectified, adding that there have been no other incidents like this in his 13 years on the job. Furthermore, he said, there has not been an escaped inmate from Floyd County since the 1970s.
“We have over 700 inmates in the jail; we have had some issues with inmates like any other jail would; and we address those and we try to be candid about those and address them,” he said.
That said, he continues to be very confident in their security.
"We figured out what happened this morning and we're going to work to resolve that, obviously, and make sure that it doesn't happen in the future," Caldwell said. "We're going to try to learn from it and move on and we're going to share with the staff here at the courthouse and the judges and their staff, as well the improvements that we want to make to make sure that, that particular incident doesn't occur again."
It all started Monday morning at 11:58 a.m., when Cotton asked to go to a bathroom at the courthouse, according to Cpl. Carrie Edge, Floyd County Sheriff's spokeswoman. Once he returned to the holding area, she said, he made his escape.
"He was able to exit through our stairwell after he got out of the door of [the] courtroom," Caldwell said about the inmate making it downstairs in a matter of seconds undetected.
After he made it to the street, he took off his shirt that had the words: "COUNTY JAIL" across the back.
His shackles, which were affixed to his waist and legs, were found a block from the courthouse.
"It's very important from this point forward, that we make sure we are double-locking our leg irons and handcuffs," Caldwell said.
Cotton was in court for armed robbery, aggravated assault, hijacking a motor vehicle, offensive weapon while committing a crime, and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon charges.
Cotton was found Monday night around 10:30 p.m., about a quarter-mile from the courthouse, and taken back into custody after a 911 caller identified the inmate running into the woods.
Standing his back deck, Floyd County resident, Matt Duvall, spotted the escapee just beyond the railroad tracks and called 911.
“Coming down the hill from… he’s at the edge of the river, going along the edge of the river, heading north on Glen Milner… right in that curb,” Duvall said to the dispatch operator, describing the escaped inmate as having dark hair and a dark beard and what he was wearing.
“He doesn’t have a shirt on; he’s got pants on… He was running along the side of the road and ran down into the woods, in the trees into the river—he’s running along the riverbank,” the caller told dispatch.
“He looked like he was sneaking,” Duvall said.
Soon thereafter, Cotton was apprehended. But he’s not the only one being held accountable for the courthouse break.
“We are all holding ourselves accountable,” Caldwell said.
It was a human security breach, he said, that over a period of years they have likely made several times without realizing it. But, he said, when they are moving that many inmates, they are bound to make a few errors.
According to Caldwell, deputies transported approximately 7,000 inmates to and from the courthouse, via the jail, in May and several more over the course of 10-plus years.
“We're talking about over 100,000 inmates transported from the jail to the courthouse successfully done and so I'd say all things being equal, over a decade to have this happen one time, I'd say we're doing good,” Caldwell said.