A man escaped from Mason County Superior Court in Shelton on Tuesday morning, where he was scheduled for a pretrial hearing in a theft case, according to the sheriff’s office.
Mason County Sheriff’s deputies are searching for Donald F. Hartwell Jr., who they do not believe to be violent, Chief Deputy Jason Dracobly said. Hartwell lives in the area, and the sheriff’s office is following up on potential leads on his location.
Hartwell was appearing in court on charges of second-degree theft for a pretrial hearing, according to court records. He was not restrained, in accordance with the court’s procedures, according to the sheriff’s office.
Dracobly, who was in the courthouse at the time, said Hartwell was sitting in the jury box, waiting for the judge to hear his case. When Hartwell’s name was called, he got up, turned the wrong way and ran, Dracobly said. Bailiffs chased after him.
“He was barefoot and was able to run through security without anybody finding him,” Dracobly said. “We think he was bouncing in and out of commercial buildings.”
Deputies and a K-9 were unable to find Hartwell.
Washington courts have long held that defendants should appear in court without restraints unless security concerns require them, but the matter has recently made its way before state and federal courts.
Washington’s Court of Appeals ruled in 2018 that defendants can’t be automatically brought before a judge in shackles, despite jail policy, and that judges must determine whether restraint is needed at hearings before trial.