St. Charles Herald-Guide

Sheriff launches internal investigation after prisoner escapes from parish jail

Kyle Barnett - July 10, 2013

When Charles Conrad III escaped from the Nelson Coleman Correctional Center early last Tuesday morning he received help from another inmate and family members, but it may have been lack of oversight by prison staff that made it easier for him to break out of the facility to begin with.

According to the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office, Conrad was working the early morning kitchen shift at the prison when he stowed away in a box and another inmate pushed him in a cart out a side door of the prison into an unsecured parking lot. When the Sheriff’s Office noticed Conrad was missing two hours later, authorities were able to go back and find camera footage of the prisoner running across the parking lot and scaling a fence.

Sheriff Greg Champagne said inmates are never allowed in that parking lot area and an internal investigation is ongoing to find out exactly what went wrong.

"From the standpoint of why it happened and possible carelessness and negligence, I am not too pleased with that but we are looking at that," he said.

Given that inmates were never supposed to be allowed in the area where Conrad escaped, it is a possibility that a guard is at fault.

"If you’ve got a job and you are doing the same thing over and over and over again and nothing happens it’s human nature to tend to be complacent and that is when something happens," Champagne said. "So we are disappointed in that and we will deal with it."

The escape will result in immediate structural changes to the prison including the addition of razor wire to the fence Conrad climbed over in his escape. There is also the potential for disciplinary action, but the details of what went wrong and who is potentially at fault for the escape may not come out.

"We typically do not release internal discipline unless it involves termination," Champagne said. "That is public record if it would happen. I am not saying it will."

Despite the escape, Champagne said he thought his deputies and detectives functioned well in recovering the inmate, a process that only took about 10 hours.

In the hours after finding out Conrad was missing, detectives and deputies scoured Killona and Hahnville as well as the river battures looking for him. In addition, calls were made to Conrad’s family members.

"The first thing you do is warn all of the family members that he’s radioactive. If you help him you stand to face the consequences," Champagne said.

Detectives were able to quickly put together the events that led to the escape and shifted their focus to the Kenner area.

After being helped out of the facility by inmate Keidrike Ayo, who is being charged with assisting escape, Conrad was allegedly picked up by his wife, Erica Williams, who the Sheriff’s Office contends he contacted by phone. Williams was later arrested at her Kenner home and charged with principle to simple escape and obstruction of justice.

The Sheriff’s Office said Conrad also received help from his brother, Wendell Conrad, who has been arrested and charged with accessory to simple escape.

Champagne said tracking down the escapee was the result of hard work on behalf of his detectives and deputies, 30 of whom worked on the investigation.

"Detectives went from motel to motel asking if anyone checked in early in the morning under this name or that name and we were able to get a motel that said ‘we had a guy check in this morning, but not under that name.’ It turns out he was registered under his brother’s name," he said.  

After pinning Conrad in the room at the motel, deputies busted down the door and took him back into custody.

"Once we learned about the escape the detective bureau did a great job," he said. "We caught him, we caught him quick and so we can’t ask for more than that."

Conrad’s was the third escape from the prison since it opened in June 2001. In all five prisoners have escaped from the prison, but all were quickly captured.

Charles Conrad III scaled this 10-foot parking lot fence to make his escape.
Charles Conrad III scaled this 10-foot parking lot fence to make his escape.