Berkeley changes release procedures at jail after inmate escape

James Sanders

Berkeley County sheriff's officials said Friday night that they have changed procedures for releasing jail inmates after a prisoner ran through an employee exit and escaped Thursday.

James A. Sanders, 39, of Cypress Campground Road in Ridgeville, had been sentenced Thursday to time served for violating a protective order.

Sheriff's Maj. Ricky Driggers said that after the magistrate's sentencing, correctional officers began preparing Sanders for release without yet realizing he still faced a charge of criminal domestic violence.

Sanders was in a pre-release room for inmates that is in the back part of the Hill-Finklea Detention Center. Driggers said the room is near a door to the employee parking lot.

"One of our officers went through the back door to go to his vehicle," Driggers said. "When the corrections officer went to go out the door, (Sanders) went through the door and took off."

Deputies surrounded the area, Driggers said, but Sanders hitched a ride within 15 minutes of escaping around 3:30 p.m. Officials said a "kind-hearted soul," not an accomplice, picked him up.

Sanders was last seen around the Medical University of South Carolina in downtown Charleston around 6 p.m. Thursday.

Driggers said that in the future, all inmates will be released at the front part of the jail, and that the pre-release room with access to the employee exit will be off-limits to inmates.

The major added that jail workers would have eventually realized that Sanders had a pending criminal charge before he was released.

"If he was there five more minutes, it wouldn't have happened this way," Driggers said. "It was perfect timing for him, bad timing for us."

Deputies placed Sanders' estranged girlfriend in protective custody after his escape. He remained on the lam Friday night.

"We are following numerous leads," Driggers said. "We're not going to stop until we put him back where he belongs."

Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or on Twitter at @offlede.