Weekend jail absconder sought

Courtesy photo Jail officials say Justin Steelman failed to return from a weekend medical furlough.

Sharna Johnson

A 32-year-old man who fled from a traffic stop and evaded police for a week is being sought again after failing to return to jail from a medical furlough over the weekend.

Justin Steelman was released from the jail following a seizure Friday night, according to jail Administrator Keith Norwood.

“We had to take him to the hospital and from there, based on his condition, they indicated we couldn’t take care of his needs at this facility,” Norwood said. “Some people, their conditions are so grave that we can’t take care of them.”

Norwood said, “more than one judge,” reviewed the jail’s request to give Steelman a furlough and it was approved.

“The furloughs are based on the information that we give the judges,” Norwood said.

Norwood declined to identify the judge or judges who approved the furlough.

Police Capt. Patrick Whitney said law enforcement have had several encounters with Steelman and in the two most recent incidents believed him to be armed.

“He’s definitely dangerous; he definitely has a history of violence,” he said. “He is danger both to the public and to law enforcement.”

When he was apprehended April 14 after officers engaged in a week-long search for him, Whitney said Steelman resisted arrest and had a knife, leading officers to taze him three times when he refused to comply.

Whitney said it wasn’t a surprise to officers that Steelman didn’t return to jail.

“(Officers are) back on the trail again,” Whitney said. “When they furloughed him, there wasn’t a doubt in our minds that we’d be hunting him again because he wasn’t going to turn himself back in.”

Under a furlough, an inmate signs off on conditions given by the approving judge, agreeing to, among other things, a time when they will return to jail, Norwood said.

“When he didn’t come back after he was released we called the sheriff’s department and informed them of what happened,” Norwood said.

When an inmate is furloughed, they are released from custody for a specific purpose, such as medical treatment.

Aside from Steelman’s decision not to report back, Norwood said the system worked the way it was supposed to.

“It wasn’t a breakdown in the system at all,” he said.

Steelman’s mother, Cecelia Steelman, said she is furious that her son was released and is now worried he will be hurt as law enforcement seeks to bring him back.

She said she was contacted by the jail Friday night and asked if she would take responsibility for him under a medical furlough.

She said she refused.

“I told him I could not take (Justin) and would not take him because he would not go back. I said … ‘you need to look at his case’ and the boy was released,” she said Monday night by telephone.

“My worry is that they’ll shoot him. He is scared to death. It was their fault and now they’re trying to look good. This is stupid, this is ridiculous … Why would they release him knowing that it took a while for them to catch him? (They) tazed him, then released him on his own recognizance?”

Cecelia Steelman said her son left a note on a family member’s car over the weekend that shows her he is, “scared to death.”

She read the note, which said, “I will not and am not running from your courts. I was told by the jail sergeant, the nurse and the jailer I was being released until I get all my medical problems cleared … I’m a man of my word and I will be at court.”

Steelman’s older brother Raymond Delgado said his brother has a drug problem and has suffered seizures and blackouts since a head injury when he was 7 years old.

He said he is upset that his brother was released, though he doesn’t believe he would hurt anyone.

“He is not dangerous,” Raymond Delgado said. “He is a drug addict, and a drug addict doesn’t want to be locked up in jail; they want to get high. They should not have let him go. I love my brother but for him, being in jail, it would have helped a lot more than being let go.”

Whitney said there’s a precedent for prisoners who don’t return from furloughs, and there was evidence to suggest Steelman was a flight risk. He contends police and prosecutors should be consulted by the jail and courts to gain a better understanding of inmate’s histories before they are released.

“This is just an old broken record,” Whitney said. “I would think if the judges heard from law enforcement and the district attorney (before granting furloughs), that they might not be so willing to let them out … the unfortunate consequence is our police officers get to go out there and risk their lives to try to retake him.”

Steelman was being held on felony charges of aggravated assault on a peace officer and aggravated fleeing or evading an officer after he drove away during a traffic stop April 6.

Police have said Steelman led them on a chase heading east on Brady Avenue, then ran on foot after he failed to make a turn in the road and got his truck stuck in a field.

Steelman was located April 14 at a residence in the 900 block of Hull Street.

According to a police report, officers found him hiding in a kitchen cabinet.