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Inmate recounts jail breakout

An official with the St. Francois County Jail says escapees were able to easily get off the roof by using a ladder left by a contractor. The jail is adding a medical wing. Photo by Jesse Bogan, St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Inmate who broke out of St. Francois County Jail doesn’t mind being back in prison. He prefers it.

Jesse Bogan, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

BONNE TERRE, Mo. — Officials believe LuJuan Tucker is so dangerous that he’s living behind multiple layers of locked doors and security fences here at Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center, a sprawling state prison that anyone would want to avoid.

Anyone, it seems, but Tucker and some of his sexually violent predator colleagues.

LuJuan Tucker (Photo by St. Francois County Sheriff’s Department)

Tucker, 38, originally from St. Louis, was one of five inmates who broke out of the St. Francois County Jail in January and took off in a stolen car without immediate apprehension.

“Those were the best four days of my life,” Tucker said in a lengthy interview Tuesday about the escape and why he’s glad to be back in prison. “I know it’s sad to say. I hadn’t been on the streets in 20 years.”

At the time of the jail break, Tucker and two others — Aaron Sebastian and Kelly McSean — were being held there on charges stemming from aggressive incidents that happened in Farmington, a few blocks away, at Sex Offender Rehabilitation and Treatment Services. SORTS, as the controversial state program is called, is for people civilly committed against their will as mental health patients after serving full prison sentences for convicted sex crimes.

Sexually violent predators are held at the high-security SORTS facility in anticipation of what they might do. Few get out for a chance to prove themselves.

“The community thinks you are going to SORTS for treatment,” Tucker said. “You are going to SORTS to die.”

So when he kicked a metal leg off a jail bunk bed, used it to pop open a secure door leading onto the roof, there was nothing to lose — at least in his mind.

Rather a shot at freedom.

And if he didn’t overcome the obstacles ahead, he’d end up in a different state facility than SORTS for a while. There are more perks in prison, he said, like permission to lift weights with his shirt off, spend more money in commissary, keep food and candy in his cell.

Lashing out

The path off the roof started long before he was held in the St. Francois County Jail.

Tucker has been institutionalized since he was a student at Pattonville Heights Middle School. He racked up sexual misconduct and offensive touching complaints that were referred to juvenile court. His grandmother was given custody. She gave up, court records say, for Tucker’s “refusal to follow the rules and ongoing inappropriate behavior.”

He was committed to the now-closed Hillsboro Treatment Center, a state Division of Youth Services facility built new in 1999. Fifteen months later, he returned to his mother’s care, in 2001. He still missed a lot of school, didn’t meet curfew and was found with marijuana in his shoe. He said his father served time in the California prison system.

“I seen the fast money,” he said of growing up. “When you don’t have guidance, saying try this, try that — something different — you are going to sway to what you see as glittery and gold, which is the streets.”

In 2003, nearly 18, Tucker was accused of raping a 12-year-old girl in her home. He was sentenced to five years in prison. Behind bars, he received conduct violations for forcible sexual misconduct and sexual misconduct, and was diagnosed with leukemia. In 2009, when he was 24, he was deemed a sexually violent predator and committed to the SORTS program. With help from the attorney general’s office, SORTS is run by the Missouri Department of Mental Health.

Tucker was one of the youngest patients there. He said he resisted treatment because there didn’t seem like a clear path out.

In 2012, he was accused of sexually assaulting another SORTS resident. He was taken to the St. Francois County Jail, then returned to SORTS one month later for an additional alleged sexual assault on a fellow inmate, according to court records. He was sentenced to five years and sent back to prison. In 2016, when he returned to SORTS, he said there was a different vibe at the program thanks to a lawsuit filed by residents in federal court.

U.S. District Judge Audrey G. Fleissig had ruled one year earlier that Missouri’s sexually violent predator law was indeed constitutional, but that treatment was essentially a sham because nobody was being released. She wrote then that there were “systemic failures” and a “pervasive sense of hopelessness.”

After the win, the class of sex predators, state officials and attorneys were supposed to come up with a plan to make necessary reforms. The state agreed to a proposed settlement that would have required at least five years of federal oversight of the SORTS program. But the plaintiffs, as well as their attorneys, divided over the best and most realistic way forward. They ate up too much time.

In early 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed a similar Minnesota case. The Missouri attorney general’s office pounced on the opportunity, as it argued successfully that the decision from the higher court applied in the SORTS case. “With some reluctance,” Fleissig wrote at the time, she dismissed the SORTS case.

Tucker said the lawsuit, originally written out by hand, still had impact for a while. He said he participated in treatment when he came back to SORTS in 2016 and tried working his way through the color-coded progress levels. Yet he seemed to always end up back on red, which also restricted his privileges, such as the job he preferred to do inside SORTS and the amount of money he could spend on commissary items.

The Sex Offender Rehabilitation and Treatment Services center in Farmington, as seen on on Aug. 30, 2013. Photo by Christian Gooden, St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

He lashed out physically.

“Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all SORTS,” he said. “It was also me not using my coping skills. I didn’t handle it appropriately, but I kept getting tired of not getting direct answers and constantly having my past reputation being thrown in my face.”

One of the charges he picked up during that time was for beating Thomas J. Ingrassia, a fellow SORTS resident who once escaped from the facility and lived a double life in Florida until he was caught and returned. The assault, and other charges, landed Tucker back at the St. Francois County Jail.

“I gave up,” he said. “When I put my hands on Tom Ingrassia I said, ‘I am not coming back. I want to live my life in the Department of Corrections.’”

If not Canada.


A few years ago, two inmates escaped from the St. Francois County Jail by exploiting a vulnerability in the metal sink and toilet assembly in cell D-1. They climbed through the wall, gained access to the roof and were gone for a brief time.

On Jan. 17, Tucker, Sebastian and McSean, all held at the jail for alleged crimes committed at SORTS, and two other inmates, Michael D. Wilkins and Dakota Pace, went out the same way.

“The jail was lazy,” Tucker said. “They never fixed the cell.”

Over a matter of days, he said they were able to gain access to the locked cell with a piece of plastic. He said they would climb through the wall and try to chip away at a brick beside the lock in the secure door leading onto the roof. But the brick wouldn’t budge. That’s when Tucker said he kicked the leg off a bunk bed and used it to pop the door open “like a soda can.”

It was dark outside, yet hours before 10 p.m. count. The jail was being upgraded at the time. A ladder for construction workers led down from the roof. At some point, they ditched their jail orange, revealing street clothes underneath to fit in. They ran to a secure lot, about one mile away at a Centene Corp. office building.

Tucker said the gray 2009 Scion TC they found had the keys in it, plenty of gas, a couple tablets, $30 in change and items like laundry detergent that could be sold along the way to aid in their escape. He said they didn’t know the owner. Even still, he said, the key chain said “getaway car.”

They ditched Wilkins, whose odd behavior eventually alerted patrons at a Poplar Bluff bar. He was taken into custody at a thrift store on Jan. 20 without incident. Tucker said the remaining four planned to stick together and go to Canada.

The only problem, he said, was money.

Along their multiple state tour, he said, they stole random license plates for the Scion, food from stores and gas cans from garages in residential neighborhoods, both day and night. Tucker said Pace was particularly good at making up stories for donations:

My wife is pregnant.

Trying to get back to Tennessee.

Tucker said they went “sightseeing” in Memphis. In Cincinnati, he said, a “female criminal” they met in a CVS parking lot helped them. Tucker said he also had consensual sex with her, which, to him, showed that he isn’t a predator.

“We had chemistry, and it went from there,” he said, adding: “She didn’t know the extent of our situation.”

State troopers in Butler County, Ohio, between Dayton and Cincinnati, eventually pulled the Scion over for an apparent traffic violation. According to a video of the stop, the fugitives acted like they were looking for their IDs, then sped off.

They bailed in a residential neighborhood after a high-speed chase. Two were immediately caught. The other two, including Tucker, within hours.


Chief Deputy Greg Armstrong, of the St. Francois County Sheriff’s Department, verified much of the breakout story that Tucker gave. He said cell D-1 was off limits at the time, but there is a “systemic” problem nationwide with inmates gaining access to locked areas by jamming the doors with plastic and other items.

He said D-1 and another cell have been taken out of service indefinitely. He said the roof door and plumbing chase have been fixed and reinforced.

Told that Tucker said they’d spent multiple days trying to get out of jail, and ultimately used a metal bunk leg to pop the door open to the roof, he said he hadn’t heard that but it wasn’t an impossible scenario.

“When you are an inmate and have nothing but time, you can do some pretty impossible things,” he said.

He said he doesn’t like having SORTS patients in the jail.

“I have said it, and I have said, and I have said it,” he repeated. “SORTS is supposed to be a treatment facility. When they are here, they are receiving no treatment whatsoever.”

He said the jail has “dozens and dozens” of surveillance cameras, and recently added more. Keeping an eye on all the angles poses a challenge.

“Security cameras are great, but you have to have somebody watching them,” he said. “We simply don’t have the staff to have one person to sit and watch cameras for eight hours a shift.”

He said some staff members were reprimanded for the breakout, which he said ultimately ended without injuries that he knows of. He said the owner of the Scion was cooperative and not a suspect in the crime. He said it’s notable that the car was stolen from a secure lot.

“They had a pretty good stretch of luck, but it finally ran out,” Armstrong said.

Not for Tucker, though. He’s right where he wants to be.

He was sentenced to seven years in prison for kicking the kitchen door at SORTS, beating Ingrassia and escaping from jail. He said his record on the lam four days shows he’s not going to harm people. He said he wants an opportunity to legally prove that he can control his sexual impulses as an adult, living out in the community.

In January, there were 265 residents at SORTS facilities in Farmington and Fulton, with 21 detainees in county jails. Currently, there are five SORTS “clients” living outside the razor wire.

“If I can’t be free, this is where I want to be,” Tucker said from the prison visiting room.

For now, he’s in administrative segregation. He said he has no TV. No books. Just a cellmate and lots of uninterrupted sleep.

He put his chin on his chest, shook his head side-to-side, as he rapped the lyrics of “Got Some Freedom,” a song he’s polished:

Yellow ladder

Down we go




This story first appeared in the July 31 edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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