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Eight prisoners broke out of holding cell June 23 to save the life of a guard who had a heart attack right in front of them.
The incident happened at the Parker County Jail in Weatherford, Texas, in the basement of the District Courts Building. Eight inmates were awaiting court appearances behind a locked door in a small cell. A single, solitary guard was watching over them. By all accounts, he was well-liked by the inmates and had been joking with them before he suddenly keeled over.
“He just fell over,” inmate Nick Kelton told WFAA. “Looked like an act. Could have died right there.”
Capt. Mark Arnett with the Parker County Sheriff’s Office spoke to NBC News about what happened.
“He was just talking to them, and he just kind of collapsed,” Arnett told reporters. “As soon as the jailer went down, they started to yell.”
“They grabbed his radio and tried to radio for help,” Arnett said.”He stopped breathing. They couldn’t find a pulse on him.”
First of all, Kelton began shouting for help, though no one seemed to hear them. Inmates making a ruckus just to get attention is not unusual, as corrections officers well know, so it’s not surprising they were ignored. But time was running out for the guard, so the inmates decided to break out of the cell. They knew they were risking their lives if armed officers were to come in and take it for an escape attempt.
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“We were worried they’re going to come with guns drawn on us,” Kelton said.
The prisoners, distinctively dressed in their classic black-and-white jail garb and handcuffs, quickly discovered the guard had no pulse, and so they made more noise in an attempt to get the attention of deputies upstairs in the courtroom.
“They thought it was a fight,” inmate Floyd Smith, who was arrested for assaulting a public servant, told the station. “They thought we were taking over.”
“He had keys,” said Parker County Sheriff’s Sgt. Ryan Speegle. “Had a gun. It could have been an extremely bad situation.”
The entire incident was captured on surveillance video.
When Speegle arrived, the guard was unresponsive. He didn’t know what was happening, so he told the inmates to get back in the cell. Seeing the unconscious guard, deputies began CPR, got a defibrillator to revive his heart, and called the paramedics. He quickly regained a pulse, and inmates, back in the cell, looked on as the man whose life they may have saved slowly regained consciousness.
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“We were going to call ‘“Mayday’ or something,’” Kelton said, explaining why he reached for the radio. “He’s a good man.”
The inmates believed that just because he was on the other side of the law didn’t mean he deserved to die. Some of the inmates were in jail for nonviolent drug offenses. Kelton said he was a meth addict who’d been in prison four times because he can’t beat his addiction.
Capt. Mark Arnett said he truly believed the inmates played a role in saving the guard.
“He could have been there 15 minutes before any other staff walked in and found him,” Arnett said.
The guard is expected back at work next week, and the room that the inmates broke out of has now been reinforced. Arnett called the locked gate “pretty flimsy.”
“All the inmates, they’re in handcuffs,” Arnett said. “We just stick them in there so they’re not wandering around and so they don’t grab somebody’s gun.”
Who knows whether if it had been reinforced in the first place that the incident would have had the same result?
“I watched him die twice,” Kelton said. “It never crossed my mind not to help whether he’s got a gun or a badge. If he falls down, I’m gonna help him.”
“Seems natural to me,” Smith said.
A surveillance video captured the whole incident.
“They definitely saved his life,” said Arnett. “There’s no doubt about that.”