by Rick Langenberg:
Teller County’s first case of a prisoner escape in 15 years has ended with the successful capture of Senior Air Force Airman Herbert T. Mullens on Friday, shortly before 1 p.m. As a result, Mullens, 23, who has been transported to the Teller County jail to await trial, faces new charges of providing false information to police officers and burglary/theft, along with his current offenses of driving while intoxicated, contributing to the delinquency of a minor and drug-related citations.
According to Teller County Sheriff Mike Ensminger, Mullens was captured by officers from the sheriff’s office and Colorado State Patrol without incident near the border of Teller and El Paso counties at Rampart Range and Loy Creek roads. He was discovered inside a fairly new all-terrain vehicle that authorities believe the escapee stole.
Ensminger said the sheriff’s office had received reports of Mullens going door to door in the area and even asking some residents to call a rental car company for him. “He looked very tired and pretty beat,” said the sheriff, who stated that Mullens was dressed in his military attire, when he was caught. Mullens had been on the run since Wednesday, when he eluded military police. Mullens, who was being transported from Peterson Air Force Base to the Teller jail asked the officers to make a stop so he could use a restroom. According to officials from Peterson Air Force Base, two officers accompanied him to a restroom at McDonald’s restaurant in Woodland Park. The officer didn’t carry any weapons, as Mullens was classified as a “medium-in-grade custody inmate,” meaning that he doesn’t pose much of a risk. The officers led Mullens to the restroom door, but didn’t enter the bathroom, according to authorities.
Then, the details get sketchy and are still under investigation. The prisoner escaped from the restroom and the officers. According to the Woodland Park Police, a report even circulated that he was spotted in the Wal-Mart store in Woodland Park that evening. However, it’s still hasn’t been confirmed if Mullens was the actual person spotted in the store. The news of an escaped prisoner, though, traveled fast and became the talk of the town at local stores and eateries on Wednesday evening.
A reverse 911 system was used to alert residents in the area that a possible dangerous fugitive was on the loose. This alert also flashed across the Internet and was publicized by local television stations. Residents were warned that the escapee may have suicidal tendencies. On Thursday, no traces could be found of Mullens and Peterson’s Office of Special Investigations was placed in charge of the case. According to Air Force authorities, the decision of whether to carry weapons or not when transporting prisoners is made on an individual basis. “He is either very cold or far from this area,” said Woodland Park Police Chief Bob Larson, who admitted that these types of escapes are unusual in Teller County.
The incident represents the first case of a successful prisoner escape in Teller County since the late 1990s. The last known prisoner escape occurred inside the Teller jail, when it was operated by a private company. That incident, which involved a suspected murderer who reportedly walked out of a jail door, served as a wake-up call for former Sheriff Frank Fehn. He immediately terminated the agreement with the company and decided to have the county run the facility. “These things happen from time to time,” commented Ensminger, who is quite familiar with the procedures of military police. “They (the military police) have their own protocol and I am sure are going to be looking into this. It’s a different world for these guys.”
Similar sentiments were echoed by Larson, who admitted that military police often don’t carry weapons when transporting prisoners. Peterson Air Force Base has limited incarceration facilities and usually contracts out these arrangements with local jail facilities. The sheriff doesn’t believe that Teller needs to change any of its procedures for accepting or handling prisoners. According to officials from Peterson Air Force Base, the military police who escorted Mullens last week during the transport are still on duty, pending an investigation.