South Carolina Prison Officials: Escapee May Have Used a Drone

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By Christopher Zoukis

For a few days in early July, Jimmy Causey, a 46-year-old inmate at South Carolina’s Lieber Correctional Institute, was on the loose.

Causey was serving five life sentences for kidnapping, robbery and burglary after breaking into his defense lawyer’s home, holding the lawyer and his family at gunpoint, and ransacking the home before leaving with just $40 and a cellphone.

On the evening of July 4, Causey managed to escape his maximum-security state prison in Ridgeville by using a wire cutter to cut through four perimeter fences surrounding the facility. Three days later, he was apprehended five states away at a motel in Austin, Texas, rousted in the early morning hours by Texas Rangers and U.S. marshals.

Asleep at the time, Causey did not put up any resistance. His room contained four cellphones, over $47,000 in cash, a pump shotgun, a semi-automatic pistol and extra ammo. The law enforcement officers had no explanation as to how Causey had come by the money or weapons.

Later that day, Bryan Stirling, the director of the South Carolina Department of Corrections, held a news conference, and said the agency was 100% sure Causey had used at least one, and possibly multiple, cellphones in carrying out his escape. Stirling added that state investigators also believed a drone was used to fly in the tools Causey used in making his escape.

Not all Causey’s strategies were as high-tech as having escape tools delivered by drone. To fool guards doing an evening headcount, he fashioned a dummy to make it appear he was in his bunk.

This was not Causey’s first escape from a South Carolina maximum-security prison. A little less than 12 years earlier, he had fled the state’s Broad River Correctional Institution accompanied by another inmate.

As with Causey’s later escape, in the 2005 escape both inmates left makeshift dummies in their cells to fool guards. They then hid in trash bins before jumping onto a garbage truck leaving the facility.

That brief respite from incarceration was also short-lived. A pizza delivery worker mentioned a strange incident to her husband whereby a customer had called to order food delivered outside a motel room and said the money for the meal would be left by the door to the room.

The husband, who worked in law enforcement, told officers searching for the fugitive about the curious incident. When they checked out the motel, they found Causey. The pizza employee eventually collected over $11,000 in reward money. A few days after having fled the state prison, Causey found himself back inside it.

Commenting on the most recent escape, both Department of Corrections director Stirling and Mark Keel, the head of the state’s Law Enforcement Division, criticized the federal government for refusing to let state prison officials jam cellphone signals coming into the facility. Without the ability to block inmates from using contraband cellphones, the state officials predicted, there will be increased numbers of ever more complex escape plans.

State law enforcement officials say they are hunting for additional people outside the prison who aided Causey’s escape. One prison staffer was also fired in connection with Causey’s escape.

Christopher Zoukis is the author of Federal Prison Handbook: The Definitive Guide to Surviving the Federal Bureau of Prisons, College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Co., 2014) and Prison Education Guide (Prison Legal News Publishing, 2016). He can be found online at ChristopherZoukis.com, PrisonEducation.com and PrisonerResource.com.