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Devontay Jenkins

Wearing half of his jail-issued orange jumpsuit, Devontay Jenkins paused for a cigarette on top of the old Orleans Parish Prison building before coming down Tuesday morning.

The view from up top was better than the one down below, where the 18-year-old from Gentilly is facing two counts of aggravated battery, 12 counts of simple burglary, plus counts of simple robbery, illegal possession of stolen firearms and possession of a firearm by a felon.

Jenkins threatened to jump from the more than two-story-high structure before his hourlong escape ended peacefully when he was coaxed off a wall.

But while his escapade may have given him a fleeting reprieve from custody, it proved the latest black eye for the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office, which has struggled to maintain courtroom security this year.

Jenkins was being taken into court for a Tuesday morning hearing when he asked for a bathroom break, according to Sheriff’s Office spokesman Philip Stelly.

Despite shackles on his ankles, Jenkins managed to slip past a portable toilet and into a stairwell, where he ran up to the roof of the building, which is no longer in use but is adjacent to the Criminal District Courthouse.

Deputies, as well as a social worker, talked to Jenkins for an hour in an attempt to coax him back into the building and safety. In the meantime, courthouse employees watched as he dangled his feet over a ledge and smoked a cigarette.

Finally, he relented. The Sheriff’s Office said Deputies Thomas Sutherland and Bennie Collura hauled him back into the building.

Jenkins was initially taken to the Sheriff’s Office medical clinic for observation. He then was transported to the psychiatric unit at the Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in St. Gabriel, according to court records.

It was the second time in a week that Jenkins has tried to escape to a high place. Police said he was arrested by members of an armed robbery task force Wednesday while hiding in an attic in the 2300 block of Allen Street in the 7th Ward.

Sheriff Marlin Gusman praised what his office termed a “professional response” to Jenkins’ escape and claimed inaction on the part of Mayor Mitch Landrieu allowed it to happen.

“While we are satisfied that everyone is safe, this incident highlights the need for a permanent holding area for inmates,” Gusman said in a statement.

He said the city has failed for years to agree to a plan to overhaul “the docks,” a city-owned building once used to house inmates as they waited to be taken to courtrooms.

But City Hall blasted back against Gusman’s statement.

“The excuses are becoming absurd. This individual was in the care, custody and control of the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office during this transfer when this attempted escape occurred,” said Hayne Rainey, Landrieu’s press secretary.

Rainey said the city would continue to work with the Sheriff’s Office, the judge overseeing a reform settlement for the jail and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to fix the docks.

Katie Schwartzmann, an attorney with the MacArthur Justice Center whose lawsuit forced the jail’s court-ordered reform plan, said the escape highlighted the Sheriff’s Office’s struggles handling inmates with mental health issues.

“OPSO’s comments and preliminary reports we have received from our clients in the jail indicate that OPSO knew Mr. Jenkins was struggling with mental health challenges and was at risk of harming himself,” Schwartzmann said. “That someone in crisis could make it onto a rooftop is inexplicable.”

Jenkins’ brief escape was at least the second for an inmate this year. In February, 38-year-old Lionel Trumble walked past a security line in Municipal Court to freedom. U.S. marshals recaptured Trumble, who was facing several counts of illegal possession of stolen things, on March 9.

Jenkins, meanwhile, faces an extensive array of criminal accusations beginning with a double shooting in the 2800 block of Pauger Street on the night of June 7. Police said in a warrant that at least three men shot toward the victim and his girlfriend, who also was wounded, near a crack house. The victim identified Jenkins as his assailant from a photo lineup, police said.

Police allege Jenkins next committed a spate of auto burglaries in Lakeview. Small amounts of cash or in some cases nothing at all were taken in 12 burglaries on June 13, according to court records, but officers also accuse him of stealing a Taurus handgun from a vehicle in the 6000 block of St. Roch Avenue on June 11.

The crime spree continued with a robbery in the 4700 block of Baccich Street in Gentilly Terrace about 6:30 p.m. June 26, police allege. Officers said a woman told them a man bearhugged her and forced her to hand over her purse before jumping into a waiting Ford Explorer occupied by other men, according to an arrest report. The woman later recognized Jenkins from news coverage of his arrest, police said.

Jenkins was not arrested until June 29.

Police said that after a woman was carjacked of her 2004 Mercedes-Benz CLK 500 in the 5100 block of Frenchmen Street, officers used a GPS tracking device to follow it to the 2500 block of Lincoln Court in the 7th Ward.

Police allege they then spotted Nicholas Roby as he set the vehicle on fire. Roby then led officers to a house in the 2300 block of Allen Street, where members of the NOPD’s new armed robbery task force found Jenkins along with 14-year-old Denzel Belvin hiding in an attic, according to an arrest report.

Follow Matt Sledge on Twitter, @mgsledge.

msledge@theadvocate.com | (504) 636-7432