Just after 5 p.m. law enforcement cruisers started pulling into the Hernando County Jail’s front lot for an emergency drill designed to keep staff familiar with how to handle a crisis situation.
Deputies were soon joined by crisis and SWAT teams, K-9 deputies and other emergency responders, such as Spring Hill Fire Rescue.
Denise Moloney said the emergency training drill was a test, but taken seriously and a surprise to many of the sheriff’s office staff involved, including Cpl. Jennifer Picardi, who is training as a backup public information officer.
Media, who gathered in a bail bonds parking lot in front of the jail, received periodical updates with more and more information on the situation. At the 5 p.m. count, two inmates were missing. One was later apprehended in the woods; the other took a civilian hostage. He barricaded himself and a woman in the facility. She later escaped, and no one was injured.
“We tried to make it as real-life as possible without anyone getting hurt,” said Sheriff Al Nienhuis. All arriving law enforcement had their pistols emptied and ammunition collected before going in to the drill. Training staff also collected pepper spray and tasers.
“Watch each other and keep ’em safe,” said Sgt. Julie Satre as the officers went into the drill.
Nienhuis said he left the drill planning to mid-level managers, and was impressed by both the planning and his staff’s response.
“Most people didn’t know a drill was going to occur; things started falling in place and they did a good job,” Nienhuis said, adding the training exercise also might act as a deterrent to any inmate contemplating an escape.
“The public doesn’t usually get to see how professional (and) prepared” jail staff is, Nienhuis said.
There have not been any inmate escapes since the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office took over the jail from Corrections Corporation of America in 2010. Sheriff’s office staff said they remembered a few escapes when CCA managed the detention center, including an inmate who escaped to California Street, running with leg shackles.