Police sift leads to catch escapee

Old-fashioned police work and cooperation among law-enforcement agencies were key factors leading to the capture of a man who had been on the run for two weeks after escaping from police custody in Columbus, investigators said.

The largest hindrance in the search for escapee Dustin A. Evans, 26, of Franklin, however, was bogus information posted on social media, according to the same investigators.

Many hours were wasted following up false tips, said Lt. Greg Duke, one of two lead investigators involved in the search for Evans, who had been missing since Nov. 17.

“We were overwhelmed with pointless leads from text messages, phone calls and Facebook postings,” Duke said.

In fact, nothing obtained through Internet sources helped in the investigation, Bartholomew County Sheriff Matt Myers said.

Myers, Duke and Edinburgh Police Chief David Mann were especially troubled when a Facebook page, “Run, Dustin, Run” was created to encourage the suspect to keep trying to elude police.

On the Facebook page, taken down after police discovered it, information was posted by an individual who presented himself as an authority on Evans and his whereabouts, said Edinburgh deputy police chief David Lutz, the other lead investigator.

It was only after tracking down several posted tips, such as Evans being in the Chicago area or traveling with a child, that investigators discovered the person the individual was pretending to be was actually dead, Duke said.

Evans’ family and friends had spent the past few weeks imagining Evans becoming critically injured or killed in a pursuit, Myers said.

They wanted him captured before either he or someone else died, the sheriff said.

“Substance abuse played a major role in his behavior. And now, he might get the help he needs,” Myers said.

“Shame on those who encouraged him to keep running,” the sheriff said.

Evans surrendered peacefully Monday evening during a traffic stop on Southeastern Avenue in Indianapolis, Duke said.

SEARCH ESCALATED

The search for the former Columbus resident began a few hours before dawn Nov. 17 after Evans kicked open the door of an Edinburgh police car in Columbus, ran between houses and managed to stay hidden in the darkness, Edinburgh Police Chief David Mann said.

It was also dark when Evans was spotted the evening of Nov. 25 at a Hope convenience store.

Evans led a Hope officer on a high-speed chase, abandoned his car at the end of a dead-end street and managed to stay hidden while officers unsuccessfully searched for him in the Goshen Meadows subdivision just south of Hauser Jr.-Sr. High School.

When a subsequent statewide advisory described Evans as armed and dangerous, however, the scale of the manhunt escalated rapidly, Mann said.

The U.S. Marshals Service, a federal fugitive task force, the Bartholomew County Joint Narcotics Enforcement Team and the Columbus Police were all involved in efforts that led to Evans’ capture at 7 p.m. Monday, Myers said.

Mann, Myers and Duke all said they were unable to verify information contained in a statewide advisory issued after the Hope incident that Evans had been selling methamphetamine and guns hidden underneath a blanket in his vehicle.

That tip came from a unreliable source in Indianapolis that was not substantiated, Lutz said.

When Duke expressed his concern about Evans’ safety to family and friends, he received a tip that Evans might be with an Indianapolis man whom he had once been in jail with, Myers said.

“They beat the bushes, got the trust of family and friends, and showed a genuine empathy,” Myers said. “Our goal was to protect the suspect, too.”

After Lutz and Duke questioned a number of leads last week in Indianapolis, surveillance teams were staked out at a number of Marion County locations, Duke said.

FINALLY FOUND

Evans was spotted at 6:30 p.m. Monday getting into a car in a northeast Indianapolis neighborhood, police said. The tip came from a person Mann does not want to publicly identify, because the source had placed himself at great risk by talking to investigators, Mann said.

That tip was passed on to the federal fugitive task force, which already was working in the neighborhood where Evans was spotted getting into a car, Duke said.

After the federal officers began following the vehicle, several other law enforcement agencies — including those in Bartholomew County — were alerted and local officers began heading to Indianapolis, Duke said.

For a short time, task force members lost the car on the busy Indianapolis streets before they spotted it again on Southeastern Avenue, Duke said. They pulled over the car and took Evans into custody, Duke said.

Evans, who was brought back to the Bartholomew County Jail after his apprehension, is being held without bond. He’s also wanted on warrants from Johnson and Scott counties, as well as Bartholomew.

DETAILS EMERGE

Meanwhile, the investigation into Evans’ Nov. 17 escape from Edinburgh police officer Rana Bostock — near Eighth Street and Central Avenue in Columbus — will soon be concluded, Mann said.

Contrary to initial reports, Evans was never let out of the police car after he complained he was getting sick, Mann said. Bostock simply opened up her door and allowed him to lean outside, the Edinburgh police chief said.

When Bostock shut the door, she thought it was secured until Evans kicked it open and fled while she was on the opposite side of the vehicle, Mann said.

“There were no violations of protocol,” Mann said. “(Bostock) was in an unfamiliar town in the dark, with no backup and no previous experience in this type of situation. She responded humanely and took the actions she felt were appropriate.”

Mann added that if Evans had actually become gravely ill in the back seat of the patrol car and Bostock did not respond humanely, the public reaction would have been much worse.

Bostock’s initial radio dispatches were received only by dispatchers with the Johnson County Sheriff’s Department, who were also unfamiliar with Columbus and unable to provide an exact location to city police, Mann said.

The Edinburgh Police Chief said he expects the investigation will result with some changes in both radio and operational procedures, as well as additional training for officers that will begin next month.

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.