Family helped jail escapee remain at large before Mississippi arrest

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KTVU and wires) -- A Santa Clara County jail inmate who escaped from a San Jose hospital last month was driven by his brother to a bus station in Reno, Nevada, and made it to Mississippi before he was captured while fleeing from a residence on Tuesday, U.S. Marshals Service officials announced Wednesday.

Authorities located 40-year-old Johnell Carter inside a duplex in Gulfport, Mississippi, and apprehended him after he tried to flee on foot, U.S. Marshal for the Northern District of California Donald O'Keefe said at a news conference in San Jose this morning.

Members of Carter's family had assisted him in his escape, including his brother, 46-year-old Joseph Carter III, who drove him on March 8 from the San Jose area to the Greyhound bus depot in Reno, where Johnell Carter, using his brother's name, boarded a bus to Gulfport, O'Keefe said.

Carter, who had been held in the county jail since March 2014 and was facing a possible life sentence for five counts of child molestation, overpowered a jail deputy on March 6 while at a medical appointment at the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose.

He injured the deputy's shoulder, fled into the area of Moorpark Avenue and Thornton Way and evaded a manhunt of 45 deputies who were joined by San Jose police and California Highway Patrol officers.

"This case became a major priority for the Marshals Service, based on the escape, the assault on the sheriff's (deputy), as well as the charges that were facing Mr. Carter," O'Keefe said.

The Marshals Service started working with the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office "from the moment this happened" and the federal agency put in "countless hours" in California, Mississippi and its other districts on the case, he said.

Sheriff Laurie Smith, at the news conference outside the sheriff's headquarters this morning, said that the U.S. Marshals Service "has been extraordinary in their assistance, because this was something that did not just happened in Santa Clara County, it was nationwide."

Sheriff's Sgt. Justin Harper, the lead investigator in the case involving a joint task force of marshals and deputies, said that early on, authorities learned that Johnell Carter's brother Joseph and Joseph's wife had family members in Mississippi.

"As soon as we determined that (Johnell Carter) had boarded a bus in Reno, Nevada to the Mississippi area, we immediately started focusing our attention in the investigation on the family," Harper said.

There is no evidence that Johnell Carter had a plan when he escaped from custody on March 6, Harper said.

"It appears that he was waiting for an opportunity and took it when it arose," he said.

Smith said that her office is reviewing its policies and procedures for transferring inmates, but Johnell Carter's escape was the first experienced by its transportation unit in a decade.

"We want to be perfect, but without an escape from our transportation unit in 10 years, with 150,000 people transported (from jail) every year, is a good record," Smith said.

Johnell Carter, who was not a minimum-security inmate and had been held in the lock-down section in the jail's Elmwood facility in Milpitas, was chained at the waist and handcuffed at the time he escaped, she said.

The sheriff's office on March 7 obtained a warrant for the escapee's arrest and marshals obtained a federal warrant in U.S. District Court for his arrest on suspicion of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution, O'Keefe said.

When the escaped inmate's bus arrived in Gulfport, he was seen in a video obtained from the station's surveillance system exiting the bus at about 4 p.m. on March 11, O'Keefe said

On March 17, deputies got a warrant for the arrest of Joseph Carter III on suspicion of harboring and abetting a fugitive and later marshals and deputies arrested him and his wife, he said.

On Tuesday, when U.S. marshals and deputies contacted Johnell Carter at the front door of the duplex in Gulfport, he fled through a rear door and tried to escape once again, but was caught after a foot pursuit, during which a marshal suffered a broken arm and torn bicep, O'Keefe said.

Johnell Carter remains in custody in Harrison County, Mississippi, as authorities in Santa Clara County prepare to have him extradited back to the county jail in San Jose.

Harper said that the sheriff's office also wants the district attorney to charge Johnell Carter with escape and resisting with injury to a peace officer.