Manhunt11.29.10.jpgA Santa Cruz County sheriff’s deputy who was attacked by an armed jail inmate who escaped custody at Dominican Hospital on Monday morning is on her way to recovery, Sheriff Phil Wowak said today.

The inmate, Maurice Ainsworth, a 24-year-old man who stands 6 feet 6 inches tall and weighs 260 pounds, escaped from custody at about 11:30 a.m. on Monday, prompting a five-hour manhunt.

The deputy, identified today as Cathy Bramanti, who in comparison stands at 5 feet 3 inches tall and weighs half of what Ainsworth does, had taken him to Dominican Hospital for an MRI. As she was putting shackles on his feet, he punched her in the face, sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Dan Campos said.

Bramanti fought back and the struggle continued as Ainsworth tried to leave the hospital, Dan Campos said.

Outside, Ainsworth bit Bramanti’s right hand. When she tried to use her Taser gun on him, he grabbed it from her and Tased her ear and neck instead.

He then grabbed her service weapon, a .40-caliber handgun, and fired at a female bystander who tried to help the deputy, Campos said. The bystander was not hit.

Ainsworth fled the hospital and smashed his way into nearby Secret Garden Too preschool, grabbed a female teacher in a room with about four infants, held the gun to her head and demanded her car keys, Wowak said.

It appears he then became distracted by the sound of police sirens and fled with the car keys through a wooded area and into the Prospect Heights neighborhood. He ended up in the 100 block of English Drive, a street that runs along a ravine, and remained there for the next five hours.

Ainsworth finally surrendered to police at a home in that block at about 4:30 p.m. Both the Taser and handgun were recovered there, Wowak said.

In the five-hour period, Ainsworth moved between two neighboring homes and even changed his clothes and ingested prescription medicine at one home, Wowak said.

He briefly held two people hostage at the first home, but they escaped unharmed.
At a news conference in Santa Cruz this afternoon, Wowak called Bramanti’s actions “heroic.”

“I think she did everything possible within her power to keep that person in custody,” Wowak said. “She did the best she could with what she was presented with.”

He said that although Bramanti, a 12-year veteran he described as “athletic” and “committed,” is severely traumatized, she is recovering well.

Wowak said the incident has prompted the department to re-evaluate its inmate transportation policy, though he said in this particular case there was no indication that Ainsworth posed an increased risk or was problematic.

“Obviously there needs to be changes,” he said. “I want to do something that’s very comprehensive.”

Ainsworth was taken to a locked medical facility where he remained today under 24-hour surveillance, Wowak said.

He will be booked into Santa Cruz County Jail on Wednesday. Prior to his escape, he had been in jail awaiting jury trial on Jan. 10, 2011, for charges stemming from a kidnapping and home invasion robbery, Assistant District Attorney Steve Drottar said.

The new charges against him will likely carry a life sentence, Wowak said. Those charges include attempted homicide, attempted escape, assault, burglary, and kidnapping.

Wowak said that looking back on the incident, it appears that Ainsworth “probably planned this.”

As part of the investigation, detectives are processing numerous crime scenes and pieces of evidence and interviewing witnesses, Wowak said.

A number of entities responded, including Watsonville, Santa Cruz and Capitola police, a sheriff’s SWAT team and two California Highway Patrol helicopters. Nearly 100 law enforcement officers responded in total, Wowak said.

The manhunt prompted the lockdown of Harbor High School and DeLaveaga Elementary School and the evacuation of the Secret Garden Too preschool.

All of the children were taken to the hospital’s Education Building where their parents picked them up, hospital officials said.

While the search was under way, Dominican Hospital was on a “modified shelter-in-place” status, hospital officials said. All entrances to the hospital were guarded and blocked, and patients were escorted in and out by security officers.

Khalida Sarwari, Bay City News

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