A Durango man who law enforcement says scaled a fence topped with barbed wire and escaped the La Plata County Jail weeks ago is back in custody, this time with his mother and brother, who are suspected of aiding in the escape.
Jeramy Hopkins, 28, who was enrolled in the jail’s trustee program – which allows incarcerated people to perform jobs around the jail to earn “good time” – was taking out the trash the night of Sept. 20 when deputies lost track of his whereabouts for about four minutes, said sheriff’s Capt. Ed Aber, the jail’s top administrator.
A review of surveillance footage determined no jail deputy appeared to be present and other trustees were outside camera view when Hopkins made his escape, according to arresting documents.
Aber said a supervisor watching the trustees was responsible for 18 people as they walked around outside and inside the kitchen. Hopkins, at an opportune moment, ran around a corner toward a 6-foot-high fence, Aber said.
It took about nine seconds from the time Hopkins started running for him to scale the fence and escape incarceration, Aber said. It took about four minutes for law enforcement to confirm his escape, he said.
“Somebody that’s 6-foot-1 or -2, it’s not much of an obstacle or barrier,” Aber said of the jail’s fence. “It’s not designed to keep people in, it’s kind of designed to keep people out.” Hopkins is 6-foot-2, court documents show.
The Sheriff’s Office declined to share footage of the alleged escape, citing an active investigation and safety concerns.
Hopkins was arrested about 10 a.m. the next day, Sept. 21, by the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office, which found him in a house in Bloomfield.
The Sheriff’s Office did not notify the public of the alleged escape at the time of the incident because Hopkins is not accused of a violent crime, and “I wasn’t concerned about public safety, I was concerned about getting him back into custody,” Aber said in an interview with The Durango Herald. The Sheriff’s Office sent a news release this week after receiving an inquiry from the Herald.
A review of phone calls between Hopkins and his mother and brother – Amy Hopkins, 49, and Dylan Hopkins, 27 – found the inmate and his family planned the escape in the days leading up to Sept. 20, court documents show.
“Jeramy relayed to Dylan and Amy that he was facing anywhere from eight to 32 years in prison and both Dylan and Amy were despondent over that prospect,” law enforcement wrote in an arrest affidavit for Amy Hopkins. “They had also been talking repeatedly about bail money and not having enough to bond Jeramy out.”
Law enforcement charged Hopkins on Sept. 5 with possession of burglary tools, a Class 5 felony punishable by one to three years in prison and $1,000 to $100,000 in fines; and theft, a Class 2 misdemeanor punishable by three to 12 months in jail and a fine of $250 to $1,000.
He’s also been charged with possession of a controlled substance with intent to manufacture or distribute, a Class 2 drug felony punishable by four to eight years in prison and a fine of $3,000 to $750,000.
Hopkins and his family members planned the time and route of Hopkins’ escape, according to the Sheriff’s Office. Law enforcement believe Hopkins’ father, Richard Hopkins, aided in the escape but did not know his son was a fugitive from justice; in fact, Richard Hopkins “was instrumental in his capture,” said sheriff’s spokesman Chris Burke.
Aber said jail deputies reviewed the recordings and alerted patrolling law enforcement of the circumstances within 20 minutes of discovering the alleged escape. Amy and Dylan were arrested the night of Sept. 20; Jeramy was arrested the next morning.
Hopkins’ mother and brother were charged with aiding escape, a Class 3 felony punishable by four to 12 years in prison and a fine of $3,000 to $750,000. His father has not been charged.
Jeramy Hopkins faces accusations of escape, a Class 3 felony punishable by four to 12 years and a fine of $3,000 to $750,000. He is being held on bond that totals $75,000 in at least three cases: $5,000 for the burglary tools and theft case, $20,000 for the drug possession case and $50,000 for the escape case.
“An escape from jail is not anything to be proud of, but the positive to focus on was the quick response from Sheriff’s Office patrol, investigations, Durango Police Department and San Juan County,” Aber said. “The response we got from them was amazing. The fact that he was out of the facility for just 14 hours shows that it worked. The fact that we arrested people involved the evening before – that response piece is important.”
The Sheriff’s Office has since implemented procedural changes to reduce the risk of escape, including stricter policies on who can be outside at certain times and under certain people’s supervision, Aber said. It could install a taller fence, but that could be expensive and people will escape regardless of the height of a fence, he said. People escaped the Robert E. DeNier youth detention center when it was open, which has 20-foot-high fences, he noted.
More deputies could help, Aber said – the jail’s population has increased by 60% in four years. The average daily population of the jail hovers around 204 people, and there’s one deputy for every 34 inmates, he said.
“I’m not crying because we’re understaffed and overworked. That’s a reality. We’re doing more with less all the time. We’ve got more programs in jail than ever, more inmates than ever,” Aber said. “We don’t have 20 extra bodies to throw at the problem.”