Escape plan falls short

Man crawls through ceiling at provincial court; winds up back in custody

Rosie Mullaley
Published on September 28, 2010
Rick Bennett is held on the floor in the main hallway of provincial court in St. John's by Royal Newfoundland Constabulary police officers and court sheriff's officers Monday afternoon.
Rosie Gillingham/The Telegram

It was like a scene from a popular TV cop show. About a dozen police officers and sheriff’s officers at provincial court in St. John’s swarmed the fourth floor of Atlantic Place Monday afternoon, searching for a man who had escaped from custody by crawling in the ceiling.

Rick Bennett, 33, of Mount Pearl had been in the interview room in the court’s holding cells, waiting to speak to his lawyer around 1:45 p.m., when he reportedly crawled up through the T-bar roof.

When he was discovered missing minutes later, sheriff’s officers notified the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary and about a dozen officers, many of them carrying flashlights, scoured the area. The K-9 unit was also deployed.

Close to 100 employees — including those in the trial division, traffic court, special prosecutions and court services — were evacuated from the fourth floor.

Judges, lawyers, clerks and other employees gathered at the bottom of the escalators and in the parking garage as the search took place.

About 45 minutes later, officers were heard yelling, “We’ve got him,” spurring all hands to run towards the court services offices close to the exit to the parking garage.

Suddenly, the door to court services slammed open to the main hallway and Bennett was being held and pushed out by a group of officers.

Bennett was kicking and shouting. Then, he began convulsing.

He was placed on the floor in the main hallway face down, but was later turned onto his back, as an officer held his head, which sported a bloody abrasion.

Ambulance attendants showed up about 20 minutes later, put Bennett on a stretcher and brought him to hospital.

Employees were then allowed back into their offices.

“It’s unbelievable,” court clerk Barbara Evans told The Telegram as she returned to court.

“We were just all so shocked. Nothing like this has ever happened here.”

As employees filed back in, however, they were told to leave the building as an asbestos assessment had to be completed on the floor since the ceiling had been disturbed.

Only Courtroom No. 7 remained open for about 10 minutes to allow time to reschedule the remaining handful of cases for the day.

The ceiling was damaged in various places where Bennett allegedly tried to kick through to get down.

Sheriff’s officers and police officers declined comment, but RNC Const. Suzanne FitzGerald later told The Telegram that officers had also crawled through the ceiling and could see Bennett. When he came through the ceiling he tried to run but didn’t get very far before officers nabbed him.

Bennett then punched a police officer in the face, FitzGerald said, and the officer sustained minor injuries.

Bennett faces a number of charges as a result of the escape attempt, including escaping lawful custody, assaulting a police officer and possible court breaches.

He had appeared in Courtroom No. 7 Monday morning on charges of mischief for damaging property and three counts of breaching an undertaking. One of the orders was that he have no contact with a woman he had been involved with.

The charges stemmed from an incident Friday night at a house in Mount Pearl.

“Your Honour, I’m innocent of these charges,” he’d said to Judge Joseph Woodrow.

The judge then scheduled Bennett’s bail hearing for Monday afternoon.

In light of his attempted escape,  Bennett is now due back in court this morning.

He also faces a raft of charges from unrelated incidents.

On Sept. 4, he was charged with harassing a woman and breaching an undertaking, while on July 11 he was charged with causing a disturbance, resisting arrest, damaging the property of the RNC and possessing a weapon (a pipe wrench).