Abraham Pearson, AKA - Derreck White
(DETROIT FREE PRESS) - After a roughly 14-hour manhunt across Detroit that involved several law enforcement agencies, authorities captured an escaped Wayne County prisoner Monday night who stabbed a deputy and left a city on edge.
Abraham Pearson, 25, was arrested after police received tips from citizens of a man walking Monday night along the I-94 service drive, near Mt. Elliott, police said.
"We have been searching the city following up lead after lead after lead," Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon said after the arrest. He said Pearson is facing 11 additional charges connected to the escape.
The ordeal started when Wayne County Sheriff's Deputy Harrison Tolliver was freeing Pearson from his restraints inside the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice in downtown Detroit Monday morning. Pearson pulled out a sharpened comb and plunged it into Tolliver's neck.
Tolliver survived. Pearson is captured. But Napoleon now has to sort out what happened. He didn't provide details before the arrest but said an internal investigation was under way into whether procedures were followed.
Obvious questions include: Was Pearson searched? Did Tolliver ask other deputies, who are usually nearby, for assistance before unlocking Pearson, who in less than an hour was due to be sentenced to up to 15 years in state prison?
Tolliver was recovering at home. Napoleon cautioned that many questions remained unanswered, but indicated the episode already has possible lessons.
"There could have been several instances down the line where people may not have done what they have been trained to do. Unfortunately in law enforcement, we find that monotony sets in, people become complacent," the sheriff said. "And those are the times when people tend to get hurt. ... We don't know whether this was one of those cases."
Dozens of local and federal officers searched for Pearson all day and night. Focusing first on the east side, where the suspect crashed a stolen minivan, police picked through garbage bins, vehicles and abandoned buildings as helicopters flew overhead.
How it unfolded
It began about 8 a.m., as Tolliver, 63, escorted Pearson and two other inmates to the seventh floor of the courthouse for appearances. Pearson, who is listed in court records as Derreck White, was to be sentenced on multiple convictions, including carjacking, armed robbery and possession of weapons. He had been found guilty Aug. 26 during a bench trial that lasted two days.
Pearson's lawyer, James Howarth, said Pearson faced up to 15 years at the 9 a.m. sentencing.
"I have the feeling he made the attempt to escape because he did not want to do the time," Howarth said.
Pearson was being put inside a holding cell near the courtroom when he pulled out a black plastic comb, sharpened on one end, and swung it at Tolliver, hitting him three times in the neck, authorities said. The other inmates stayed in the cell and did not intercede.
At some point, the comb snapped, Napoleon said.
The puncture wounds were not life-threatening, but Tolliver was out of it enough for Pearson to restrain him with three pairs of handcuffs, sheriff's spokesman Dennis Niemiec said. The inmate also stripped off part of the deputy's uniform, put it on and made his way to ground level, where he walked out a back door. Part of the exit was caught on videotape, but the attack was not.
Napoleon said Pearson "obviously paid very close attention to how this whole process works."
He said Tolliver later was able to call for help using a court phone.
"(Pearson) used a comb that had been fashioned into a shank to overcome the deputy," Napoleon said. "(He) stabbed him several times in the neck. During the time after he stabbed the deputy, he took the deputy's clothes, took his keys, got on the prisoner elevator and escaped from the building."
Pearson went southwest, past the old police headquarters at 1300 Beaubien, and at the corner forced a woman out of her minivan and drove off, police said.
Patricia Banford, 58, had just parked in a lot off Beaubien when a young man, wearing brown pants and a brown shirt, walked by. Preparing to go take care of an issue with her taxes, she leaned over to grab some papers, and suddenly her door was flung open.
"He said, 'Give me your car or I'll kill you,' " Banford said.
Near there, officers later found a deputy's uniform shirt with badge and a yellow jail shirt underneath a burgundy Jeep.
Pearson fled to the near east side, where police say he crashed the minivan into another vehicle at Concord and East Lafayette. From there, they believe he fled on foot.
Napoleon said police were searching the east side and west side, where Pearson's girlfriend lives.
Three people were taken into custody before Pearson was arrested, at homes on Burlingame and Lawrence, police said.
Sheriff's office spokesman Niemiec said four other people were also brought in for questioning in conjunction with the investigation.
Then, late Monday, police got citizen tips that a man was walking along the I-94 service drive near Mt. Elliott.
When Detroit police officers Darius Shepherd and Derrick Keasley got to the area at about 10 p.m., he took off running. They caught him and arrested him.
It was Pearson.
"He tried to escape again, but he was caught," Napoleon said.
Asking for privacy
Ivan Villard, 41, of Detroit, released a statement from Tolliver's family to the Free Press, asking that the public respect Tolliver's privacy. Tolliver retired from the Detroit Police Department and joined the sheriff's office last December.
Police said they will seek new charges against Pearson.
"We are thankful that (Tolliver) is alive and thankful for everyone's prayers. He doesn't want to talk about it or continually relive the incident," Villard said. "Just know that he is trying to recover."
Howarth said he believes Pearson may have mental problems, based on what his family told Howarth - that Pearson had heard voices and experienced hallucinations since childhood. Howarth said the family did not have the resources to get help.
However, after a recent arrest, two evaluations concluded Pearson was faking, Howarth said.
Pearson also has an extensive criminal history.
Michigan Department of Corrections spokesman Russ Marlan said Pearson, who is on parole, had been in jail since being arrested Sept. 4, 2012, on the new felony charges that landed him in court.
Pearson was convicted in 2006 on one charge of assault with intent to rob while armed and two counts of breaking and entering. According to Oakland County court records, he was arrested by Southfield police on March 4, 2006, after breaking into a store in the 22000 block of Telegraph.
Pearson was sentenced to four years, three months to 17 years in prison and was eligible for parole in October 2010, Marlan said. However, he wasn't released until Jan. 25, 2012.
Pearson failed to report to his parole agent a month after his release, and an arrest warrant was issued, Marlan said. He reported on March 6, 2012, and was taken into custody. Pearson remained jailed until April 12, 2012.
Marlan said Pearson failed to report again on May 1, 2012, and remained at large until his arrest that September.
Pearson has several tattoos, including the words "Hot Boyz" on his left forearm. Police said that tattoo refers to an alleged carjacking gang. He also goes by "Weezy" and "D.C.," the Department of Corrections said.
Police said Pearson has a twin brother.
Policies under review
Napoleon said deputies who transfer prisoners from the jail to the courthouse typically aren't armed. He said one deputy can escort up to five handcuffed inmates at a time in the courthouse. Napoleon blamed staffing issues for Tolliver being alone at the time.
Sheriff's officials in Oakland and Macomb counties declined to discuss their procedures in detail, but said deputies are armed when transporting inmates. They did not discuss procedures inside the courthouses.
"They are all fully deputized and armed," Oakland County Undersheriff Michael McCabe said.
McCabe also said all transport teams are made up of at least two deputies, regardless of how many prisoners are being moved.
Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham said the transport van can take about 10 inmates and travels with two deputies at all times. He said the inmates are cuffed together and also may be secured with belly chains and leg irons, depending on classification.
Detroit Free Press