HOUSTON (AP) — The search ended Wednesday for an inmate who managed to walk out of a Houston courthouse after being left unattended by deputies who were responding to a brawl in a nearby courtroom.
Michael Devon Combs was apprehended, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office said on Thursday morning, almost 24 hours after he escaped custody. The Office did not say when or where Combs was captured.
At around 10 a.m. Tuesday, Michael Devon Combs was being detained in what is normally a secured holding area for individuals in custody. The holding area was located in the back of a courtroom on the 19th floor of Houston’s criminal courthouse, said Mark Lipkin, Combs’ attorney. Lipkin was in the holding area with Combs and had spoken with him just before his escape.
“I had my back to him when everything happened. I mean, if I were just able to give him some advice, I would have told him it’s not smart to do that. Don’t do it,” Lipkin said.
In the holding area, which cannot be seen by the public, Combs sat on a metal bench and had a shackle, like “handcuffs for the feet,” around his ankle, Lipkin said. The shackle was attached to a metal pole on the bench.
Combs, 32, was awaiting a court hearing in which his bond was set to be revoked, with a judge expected to issue a new bond with a higher amount, Lipkin said. Combs has been charged with assaulting his girlfriend, including choking her, in March 2022.
“I was talking to him and he was pretty upset. And he said he wanted to talk to the judge, and I told him, ‘OK, give me a minute,’” said Lipkin, who said he then went to the other side of the holding area to speak with another client.
While Combs waited for his hearing, a fight took place in another courtroom on the same floor. Deputies, responding to an alarm from a panic button, rushed to the nearby courtroom, leaving Combs unattended, said Harris County Sheriff’s Office Major Lynette Anderson.
The brawl in the nearby courtroom took place during a separate hearing in which the family members of a murdered 16-year-old girl tried to attack her ex-boyfriend after he pleaded guilty to shooting her nearly two dozen times while she was walking her dog in January 2022.
Lipkin said he heard the alarm and noticed the commotion of people rushing to the other courtroom. But because he had his back to Combs, Lipkin said he didn’t notice when Combs ran off.
“I heard the chain, you know, hitting the metal of the pole where he was shackled to,” said Lipkin, who added that later on he saw “two deputies running through that area. And I found out later that they were chasing this guy.”
Anderson said it was about 10 or 15 minutes after the fight in the nearby courtroom before deputies realized Combs had fled.
“Some kind of way he got out of the shackles and he walked out of the courtroom, got on the elevator and walked out of the building,” Anderson said.
Once outside the courthouse, Combs took off an ankle monitor he had been wearing, Anderson said. Authorities said Combs should be considered dangerous.
“We are investigating the entire thing, and this is an isolated incident and we’d hope it won’t happen again,” Anderson said.
Lipkin said he’s never experienced an incident like this in his 30 years as an attorney.
“You never have a brawl like that in another courtroom and then have someone walk out of the court that’s supposed to be in custody at the same time. … It was just a weird situation,” he said.