A manhunt continued Wednesday for an inmate charged with murder who escaped from custody Tuesday in New Orleans as authorities drove him from a mental health facility in Jackson to the Orleans Parish Criminal District Courthouse.
But even as Lorenzo Conner remained at large, having broken through the back window of a state van in Mid-City, questions swirled about the reaction of state and local law enforcement agencies and whether residents were properly warned about the fugitive in their midst.
Col. Mike Edmonson, the State Police superintendent, said Wednesday that the initial response had been uncoordinated and “certainly not acceptable.”
Edmonson said Conner, 24, apparently eluded two employees of the state Department of Health and Human Services, who called 911 from a pay phone after 5 a.m. to report the escape.
Conner managed to free himself from shackles, authorities have said. But it remains unclear whether the employees transporting him had followed proper procedures and whether they might face disciplinary action because of the escape.
Kathy Kliebert, the DHH secretary, declined to be interviewed Wednesday.
A DHH spokeswoman, Ashley Lewis, said the agency is investigating the incident internally.
“Transport procedures are currently undergoing a complete review, and appropriate additional safeguards will be implemented immediately,” Lewis wrote in an email. “These include increased monitoring of guards to ensure procedures are correctly followed and a review of all safety measures.”
Edmonson said it’s critical to distribute information about an escape to the community within the first two to three hours because the fugitive is most vulnerable at that point. “We missed that,” said Edmonson, who decided State Police would take over the manhunt Tuesday afternoon because “no one really was leading the search.”
“It’s not the way you want it to happen,” he said.
It wasn’t until after 3 p.m. Tuesday that the first photographs of Conner were distributed to the news media.
DHH officials would not comment on the escape Tuesday morning and, for several hours, declined even to confirm the name of the fugitive.
Conner, who had been found incompetent to stand trial in the 2011 killing of 25-year-old Nelson Smith, apparently broke through the window of a transport van near Tulane Avenue and South Telemachus Street.
Police responded to the emergency call and set up a perimeter, Edmonson said, but Conner managed to elude arrest, even after bloodhounds were brought in.
Conner, who had been housed at the Feliciana Forensic Facility, was being transferred to Orleans Parish Prison.
Edmonson said authorities were interviewing Conner’s family members in hopes of generating new information. “We’re following every single lead we have,” he said.
Crimestoppers has offered a reward of up to $2,500 for leads leading to Conner’s arrest. Anyone with information about his whereabouts is asked to call Crimestoppers at (504) 822-1111 or State Police at (504) 471-2775.
Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.