PARMA - An incident some officers are calling a comedy of errors, took place in Parma in late August, when a man in handcuffs managed to steal the police car he was in and get away.
It happened after authorities picked up Jeffery Epperson on a warrant for parole violation. A series of events that followed allowed Epperson to climb to the front seat, take control of the police car, and get away - without anyone even noticing.
"His [probation officer] and I had been trying to find him for a while," Parma Police Chief Albert Erickson said. "We had reports he was using drugs, we had reports he was forging checks, we knew he had been passing forged documents at several locations. Just had a whole bunch of stuff he was doing that we wanted to stop."
Wilder Police Chief Dusty Tveidt and a Canyon County sheriff's deputy were with Erickson and Epperson's probation officer when they got to his mom's house to serve the parole commission warrant.
"We found Mr. Epperson, took him into custody. He was handcuffed by his probation officer and placed in the backseat of Chief Tveidt's car," Erickson said. "He has a cage, I do not. And I didn't want this guy getting away."
Erickson says at some point, Tveidt swapped out Epperson's handcuffs because he was complaining of shoulder pain, and put on two handcuffs linked together.
"So [it] gave him a lot more room to work."
Meantime, a man identified as Epperson's husband was put in handcuffs, but immediately started throwing up and sweating profusely.
"We call medics, so there's a big circus," Erickson said. "Lots of fire engines, couple ambulances, people coming up and going."
He says the probation officer was standing at the car watching Epperson, but he had to leave to get paperwork.
"And I said 'we got this.' Because I had somebody stationed in the front yard," Erickson said.
But everyone's attention was focused elsewhere: on the sick man and inside the house, gathering evidence.
"So some time during that melee, Epperson managed to get his cuffs in front of him. Then he crawled through a partition got in front seat and drove the police car away," Erickson said. "The partition was left open because it's a hot day, the air conditioning is on... Everything we did to be nice to Mr. Epperson he took advantage of."
About an hour after the ordeal started, they notice Chief Tveidt's car was missing, and the panic set in.
"Epperson drives away and nobody notices because we're all working on this emergency," Erickson explained. "There were several cars parked on the street so the fact that one is missing didn't attract anybody's attention until everybody cleared out."
Epperson ended up crashing the police car a few miles away where it was spotted by a Canyon County sheriff's deputy. Chief Erickson says Epperson drove the car through a cattle gate, across a small field, and toward a river embankment, but a mid-height barbed wire fence stopped the car from going into the water. Officials believe it was his intent to destroy the vehicle.
Epperson called then someone to pick him up and escaped before deputies retrieved the car.
Then a week later, authorities were able to capture him at a nearby hotel.
"In 29 years I thought I'd seen everything," Erickson added. "If we take any one link out of the chain, he doesn't get away with it."
Erickson says he's learned a valuable lesson and his department is making some changes to the way they do things, even though it wasn't his car that was stolen.
Parma Police was already moving in the direction of replacing the cages and adding cages to the windows in their cars, but now they plan on doing that sooner rather than later.
Erickson says it's also critical that in any situation, they transport the person in custody sooner, and of course, always have eyes on the individual.
"We all make mistakes. and what we have to do is figure out what we did wrong, fix it and move forward," he said "You can't dwell on the past."
Erickson told KTVB the Wilder Police Chief's car is completely totaled; the bumper is smashed, it would require a new paint job, and the frame under the car was destroyed when Epperson drove it over large rocks.
Meanwhile, Epperson is in the Canyon County Jail on multiple new and old felony charges.
The Parma Police Department is handling the investigation. KTVB did reach out to Wilder Police Chief Tveidt to talk about this incident with us, but he said he wasn't available.
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