Just after the two deputies took off his handcuffs to lead him into the courtroom, David Jones, an armed robbery suspect wearing the black and white sneakers issued to all inmates at the Fairfax County jail, made his break.
The Fairfax County Courthouse was crowded as usual that Friday morning, Nov. 24. Ripping the buttons off his coat, Jones broke from the clutches of Deputy Robert Huber. Deputy James Payne tackied Jones and rolled down a flight of stairs with him.
Jones got away from Payne -- who severely injured his shoulder on the stairs -- and sprinted out of the court-house, acorss a lawn, past an Exxon station and into the unknown. The 24-year-old's flight was successfl, even though his mother had warned deputies that her son intended to escape. He has not been seen since.
"If you want to escape from the Fairfax County Courthouse it is an easy thing to do," said Fairfax County Sheriff James D. Swinson, the man responsible for courthouse security.
"Some of these prisoners we have can really move. You get somebody who runs like Tony Dorsett and what are you going to do with a stud like that?" Swinson said yesterday.
Swinson said the county has been "awfully lucky" in recent years that more prisoners have not figured out how easy it is to escape when they are transferred from the county jail to the courthouse, most of which was built in the early 1950s.
Fairfax County plans to build a new courthouse in Fairfax City, to be completed in 1981, with "safe corridors" that will separate prisoners from other courthouse visitors.
In the existing building, located in the center of Fairfax City, prisoners and deputies move through hallways that are frequently jammed with attorneys, children, distraught parents and people seeking to pay traffic fines.
"What we've got is a big city courthouse with rural security precautions," said Chief Deputy Wayne M. Huggins. "If a man decides to run in the courthouse, the only thing we can use to stop him is brute force," Huggins said.
Swinson said he congratulated both deputies who failed to stop Jones' escape in November. He respected their coolness.
"My deputies, thank God, did not shoot at the man. They had ample opportunity. Out here on the lawn in front of the courthouse, they could have had a clear shot. But they could have missed and hit somebody across the street in those law officers," Swinson said.
About 11,000 prisoners are moved in and out of the 18 courtrooms in the Fairfax courthouse every year, according to the sheriff's department. Jones is only the second prisoner to succeed in breaking away from deputies and escaping in this decade, Swinson said.
What makes the Jones excape "obviously unusual," according to Huggins, is the warning by Jones' mother that her son was planning a getaway.
Two weeks before Jones ran out of the courthouse, the prisoner's mother called Deputy Walter McLaughlin and said her son had vowed to excape, Huggins said. McLaughlin told the jail's chief confinement officer, Capt. Donald F. Wilkins, about the call.
Wilkins said yesterday that he remembers hearing about the "escape risk," but did not order extra security precautions because he considers everybody in the jail to be a potential escapee.
Jones was transported from the jail to the courthouse, a distance of about one block, under the guard of two deputies, Swinson said.
Swinson, who said he didn't hear about the warning about Jones until after the escape, said yesterday that from the viewpoint of a "Monday morning quarterback" there probably should have been extra men guarding Jones.
The sheriff claimed, however, that the security problem in the courthouse has little to do with how many men guard a prisoner.
"Anytime you have prisoners out in the public like that you are at a disadvantage," Swison said. "When a prisoner has to march through a crowd of people, he can lunge and break away."
Since Jones's escape, seven of the eight Fairfax County Circuit Court judges have ordered that handcuffs be removed from prisoners only after they have been brought insid their courtrooms.
Swinson said that he would prefer that handcuffs never be taken off prisoners when they are ouside of jail.