Inmates at large after ‘bold’ courthouse escape

Two inmates who escaped from the Palo Alto Courthouse Monday morning were heavily aided by outside co-conspirators in what Santa Clara County sheriff’s officials are calling a sophisticated attempt to flee justice.

The two inmates, John Bivins, 46, and Tramel McClough, 47, escaped the courthouse around 9:30 a.m. as they were heading to a court appearance in the same courtroom and fled in an awaiting getaway vehicle, according to sheriff’s officials.

Sgt. Reggie Cooks said:

“These two individuals were highly motivated to escape. They were bold and brazen in the attempt to escape.”

The inmates were walking through a public hall adjacent to an elevator, which is normal procedure according to sheriff’s officials, when they caused a distraction among inmates being escorted to court by the deputies.

At that point, McClough and Bivins – one of whom was in chains and shackles and the other in handcuffs – bolted for a nearby emergency exit. It isn’t clear which prisoner had the heavy set of restraints, according to Cooks.

One deputy, Cooks said, gave chase to the inmates, but was unable to apprehend them. The pair then got into a 1980s-model Toyota Corolla, which according to Cooks was “kitty-corner” to the courthouse and about 50-60 yards away.

Cooks said the pair and those who accompanied them in the getaway vehicle then dumped the Toyota at an undisclosed location, got into a U-Haul vehicle with a “$19.99” advertisement on the side and drove away. Cooks said the inmates haven’t been seen since.

In addition to the distraction of the deputy escorting the inmate, Cooks said the inmates appeared to have a handcuff key in their possession sometime during the escape, although it is unclear when they acquired it.

Cooks said:

“If you went to a store and bought a set of handcuffs, that is a key that would come with a set of handcuffs.”

Deputies, according to Cooks, often carry a larger key in their possession when they are on duty that they can detect easier on their beltline during a high-pressure situation when motor functions may decrease.

The last time inmates notably escaped from Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office custody was from the Santa Clara County Main Jail almost one year ago on the night of Nov. 23, 2016.

A total of four inmates escaped from Main Jail South by cutting bars to a second floor window. They then lowered themselves to the ground with bed sheets and clothing, sheriff’s officials said.

Two of them were immediately apprehended but two others – Rogelio Chavez, 33, of San Jose, and Laron Campbell, 26, of Palo Alto, managed to stay free after their escape for more than a week.

The two were later found within a 24-hour span hidden in separate attics, Santa Clara County sheriff’s officials said. Three women accused of helping the men stay out of custody were also arrested.

Both McClough and Bivins were being housed at Elmwood Correctional Facility in Milpitas, which is known as a minimum-security facility. Other inmates who were with the duo as they were being led to court didn’t attempt to escape.

Cooks said:

“It’s not like somebody was sitting idle and they found this lackluster opportunity to escape.”

Cooks said the pair is from the Palo Alto area, as Bivins has an “EPA” tattoo – which stands for East Palo Alto – on his stomach. The pair, Cooks said, likely has a local network that helped them get away:

“They’re from the local area … anyone who is anyone that is aiding or abetting we would prosecute to the fullest extent. … They really thought this thing through.”

Both inmates had jumpsuits with an orange top and gray pants that they didn’t change out of while escaping.

Bivins is described as a 5 foot 9 inch, 180 pound black man with brown eyes and black hair. McClough is a 6 foot, 4 inch black man who weighs 285 pounds. Anyone that sees them is advised to call 911 or the sheriff’s office at (408) 808-3670.

Both men were arrested in February on suspicion of stealing $64,400 worth of cellphones and other merchandise from a Verizon store in Sunnyvale, police said earlier this year.

According to police, the two men were wearing masks when they allegedly forced the store’s employees to open the store’s safe and then tied them up and locked them in a bathroom, police said. One was armed with a handgun and the other with a knife.

The suspects ransacked the store, reportedly taking dozens of cellphones and other merchandise before fleeing in a vehicle. The employees were not injured, police said.

Police apprehended the pair afterward nearby, following a short pursuit.

Police recovered the stolen property and the handgun allegedly used in the robbery. The gun had been reported stolen out of Nevada, police said.