US woman prison officer disappears with inmate who is a murder suspect

Officer Vicky White (left) left the county jail to take Casey White to a mental health evaluation at the county courthouse. PHOTOS: LAUDERDALE COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE/EPA-EFE

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) Authorities in Alabama said Monday (May 2) that they had issued an arrest warrant for a corrections officer who disappeared with a murder suspect after they left a jail together last week for an appointment that turned out not to exist.

Officer Vicky White, the assistant director of corrections for Lauderdale County, Alabama, left the county jailearly Saturday morning to take the inmate, Casey White, to a mental health evaluation at the county courthouse in Florence, just outside Muscle Shoals.

The officer and inmate are not related, officials said.

Lauderdale County Sheriff Rick Singleton said at a news conference Monday that an arrest warrant had been issued for Vicky White on a charge of permitting or facilitating an escape in the first degree, though he added that it was possible that she had been coerced or threatened. "We know for sure she did participate," he said.

Some details of the case suggest a premeditated escape plan.

Vicky White had recently decided to retire and told colleagues of plans to move to the beach.

The day she left with Casey White was scheduled to be her last day of work, Mr Singleton said.

At 56 years old, four years away from being able to access her retirement benefits, Vicky White chose an atypical time to retire, he added.

Still, "everybody thought she was going to retire," Singleton said.

"Nobody saw this coming."

Vicky White's mother, Ms Pat Davis, told the local TV station that her daughter had sold her home and moved in with her five weeks ago.

Vicky White is a widow with no children.

Investigators are scrutinising surveillance video footage and phone records to determine whether the correctional officer and her inmate had "any kind of relationship", the sheriff said.

"In hindsight," he added in a phone interview, "all things look different".

The possibility that Vicky White had facilitated an inmate's escape stunned her fellow employees, the sheriff said.

In recent years, Vicky White had been voted the department's employee of the year four times, chosen from more than 50 people working at the jail.

Her job entailed scheduling transportation for inmates to appear in court and ensuring that at least two armed deputies accompanied those charged with serious crimes.

That means Vicky White knew she was violating policy when she transported Casey White alone, Mr Singleton said.

Casey White was charged with two counts of capital murder in 2020 in connection with a murder for hire.

Mr Singleton said Vicky White had told the booking officer that she would drop Casey White off at the courthouse herself to catch up with two vans carrying inmates that had just left.

She also told the booking officer that she would "seek medical assistance" for herself after dropping off Casey White for his appointment because she was feeling ill.

But Vicky White did not go to a medical appointment, either, Mr Singleton said.

"We think that was an excuse," he said.

Instead, they disappeared.

The authorities continued their search Monday.

Vicky White's abandoned patrol car was found Friday morning, parked among cars for sale at Florence Square, a shopping mall 3km from the jail.

Investigators determined that they had not gone to the courthouse at all, the sheriff said.

Casey White was handcuffed and shackled when he left the jail, Mr Singleton said.

The US Marshals Service said Sunday that it was offering a US$10,000 (S$13,800) reward for information leading to the capture of Casey White and the location of Vicky White.

The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency issued a "blue alert" on Friday night for the missing officer.

"Casey White is believed to be a serious threat to the corrections officer and the public," the alert said.

Mr Singleton said Vicky White was armed with a 9-mm handgun before she disappeared, leading investigators to believe that Casey White was now armed.

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