South Bay News

Escaped prisoner taken into custody

Tuesday, November 30, 2010
 A manhunt is under way in Santa Cruz County for an armed inmate who escaped custody.

An all-day manhunt in Santa Cruz had a peaceful conclusion Monday after an escaped inmate was taken into custody. It all started Monday morning when 24-year-old Maurice Ainsworth overpowered a deputy after a hospital visit, tased her, then took off.

The scanning machine at the MRI center at Dominican Hospital is essentially a giant magnet, so all metal, including handcuffs and leg shackles had to be removed.

While a 5'3" female Santa Cruz County Sheriff's deputy was putting the shackles back on Ainsworth, 6'7", 275 lbs., he punched her, bit her, and then ran out into the parking lot. The deputy chased down Ainsworth.

"Following the MRI, the deputy was attempting to shackle the inmate and he punched her and a fight began inside the facility, he then fled and the deputy chased him out into perimeter of the hospital where they fought again," Santa Cruz County Sheriff's spokesperson Sgt. Dan Campos said. "The inmate took the deputy's Taser, tased the deputy, and then took the deputy's handgun. He then fired a round at a female bystander, then fled into a neighborhood nearby."

Ainsworth fired the shot without hitting anyone.

Deputies say after escaping, Ainsworth ran toward a preschool where he confronted one of the people inside.

"He held Tiffany with two other babies in the infant room with a gun on her, actually on her head, and he asked her for... I'm not sure exactly how the conversation went, but from what I got from Tiffany was that he asked her for her car keys and she gave him her car keys, she said, 'take it, take it,' and the car was parked right by where he ran in," witness Kathy LaTorre said.

She gave him her keys, but police were swarming the area, so he ran three blocks and broke into a home on English Drive, less than a mile from the hospital. According to neighbors, the people inside the home managed to get out.

"It was in the process of clearing house next door, that's when our SWAT team came across the suspect in the other home. At that point he was up against the SWAT team, six to seven members who are very will trained, highly armed, and would not have been much of a match for him," Santa Cruz Police Capt. Steve Clark said.

Lindsay Barbic's parents live nearby. Barbic says she saw some of the hostages walk out of the house.

"I saw the hostages get, run out and they got out OK," she said.

Police say the people inside that home were never hostages.

About four hours later, negotiators managed to convince Ainsworth to give himself up and he surrendered without a fight.

Nearby schools were on lockdown during the standoff.

"The message said stay home, don't come, but I'm glad I came. I wanted to get my kids," parent Karen Beltramo said.

"I really appreciate how much they protected the children," grandparent Hannah Meara said.

Now the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Department is being asked why it placed a 6'7" inmate in the hands of a much smaller, lone, female deputy.

"There is no specific policy that addresses this specific situation," Campos said. When asked if it would serve right to have an extra deputy in the room during a situation like that, he simply replied, "Yes."

That's about as far would as Campos go in regards to security while transferring an inmate to the hospital, but the sheriff's department says it will be reviewing its procedures after this incident.

Ainsworth was awaiting trial for a home invasion robbery in Los Gatos. The Santa Cruz Sentinel reports that he was scheduled for trial on Jan. 10.

He already has two other felony convictions for two other incidents. In 2008, he was found guilty for injuring a peace officer, auto theft, and buying and selling stolen property. In 2006 he was sent to jail for buying and selling stolen property as well.

Photo courtesy Shmuel Thaler/Santa Cruz Sentinel

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