Polk deputies find, arrest escaped inmate

Joseph Flanagin
Joseph Flanagin

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – After an intense search an escaped inmate is back behind bars. Polk County Sheriff’s Office deputies located and arrested escaped trusty inmate 45-year-old Joseph Flanagin in the Providence and Kathleen Road area of north Lakeland.

Flanagin was arrested September 22, and charged with violation of probation after his third petit theft conviction. He was sentenced to 300 days in jail and was scheduled to be released in March 2017.

Flanagin had earned trusty status with good behavior and had already served trusty status for 66 days. A “trusty” is defined as a prison inmate who has been granted special priveleges as a trustworthy person. This means they are allowed to work outside, under supervision.

PCSO Public Information Officer Donna Wood tells News Channel 8 that Flanagin was working as a trusty Thursday afternoon at the Polk Board of County Commissioners fleet maintenance garage at 2490 Bob Phillips Road in Bartow, when an employee supervising Flanagin noticed he was missing. Investigators found the white Ford pick-up truck that he stole later that evening.

An active search was conducted throughout the evening hours in the north Lakeland area, including the Flanagin’s last-known address.

“The cops had blocked the road. We couldn’t get through,” neighbor Samantha Fowler said. She got caught up in the manhunt when she tried to go to the store Thursday night “He [a deputy] looked in my backseat because my brother was back there. We ended up having to turn around because they wouldn’t let us through.”

The escape had nearby residents concerned about safety. “In their own vehicle, at that. It just doesn’t make sense,” Fowler said. “There should be a supervisor for every inmate,” she said.

Polk County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Donna Wood said the trusty program is safe and has a great reputation. She said the program has run successfully for a number of years and it was the first incident she can recall.

“They are supervised. These are non-violent criminals, who have not committed a crime of violence,” Wood said. “We want to let the public know that obviously, at any point in time if we feel that there is a safety concern, we’re going to let you know. In this case we had a nonviolent offender who violated the rules of the trustee program, and now he’s going to pay for it.”

Flanagin was located around 7:45 a.m. Friday. He now faces charges of escape and grand theft auto, and could recieve up to 15 years behind bars.

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