As the search for an escaped inmate from the Franklin Correctional Institution entered its third day, a reward of up to $5,000 is now being offered to anyone who can provide information that leads to his arrest.
Sheriff A.J. Smith said Wednesday morning that 37-year-old Robert Rutherford was last seen between 8th Street and Avenue I Tuesday night. He said law enforcement personnel searched the area and said Rutherford broke into a vacant home where he ate, drank, and changed clothes.
Rutherford may be wearing a camouflage jacket and a backpack, Smith said.
He said Rutherford stole a couple of bikes, that have since been recovered. “Be vigilant, especially at night, as he’s lurking through the alleys”, said Smith.
Rutherford’s brother contacted the sheriff’s office and asked if he could be of help, Smith said. He said Rutherford’s brother provided a family history and encouraged Rutherford to turn himself in, that it was what their father would want.
Rutherford walked away Monday morning from a work crew site at the 10 Foot Hole in Apalachicola, which is adjacent to Battery Park, while the crew was working on putting up fencing for the upcoming Florida Seafood Festival the first weekend of November.
The search has included surveillance by a helicopter from the Leon County Sheriff’s Office that can detect body heat. “In pitch black darkness they can see a body,” Smith said. “We were hoping they would turn up something.”
The sheriff’s office awoke County Judge J. Gordon Shuler Monday night, and the judge signed a warrant for Rutherford’s arrest on escape charges.
Smith said Rutherford, who was last seen in blue prison clothes, could be hiding under a house, or in thick woods. “There’s been no reported stolen cars nor reported burglaries,” he said. “Everyone was out all night long and we’ll keep trying.”
Inmate work crews from FCI are often in Apalachicola, often working on the city’s green spaces. “They’re cutting grass, digging up grass, they work every day just about,” Smith said. “When you have inmates working in a community there’s a certain amount of risk Involved.”
A news release from the Florida Department of Corrections Tuesday said that the department “is committed to ensuring all inmates are supervised appropriately, and that security protocols at all work sites are followed to prevent escapes. Escapes like this are extremely rare, and this remains an active situation.”
Smith said his department is being assisted by the Apalachicola Police Department along with K-9 units from FCI, Gulf Correctional Institution and other dog teams, including one from the Franklin County sheriff’s office.
In addition, the Florida Highway Patrol assisted with drones, and there was help from FWC and neighboring sheriff’s offices. “We have a continued heavy presence,” he said.
The inmate has been incarcerated at FCI since Sept. 2011, after he received a 20-year sentence in Pasco County for armed burglary and stealing property worth as much as $100,000.
Prior to that he was imprisoned from September 2007 until May 2008, part of a conviction record listed on the Florida Department of Corrections website that indicates Rutherford has a lengthy history of offenses in Pasco County over the past decade, which have included multiple counts of armed burglary, grand theft, possessing burglary tools, criminal mischief, grand theft of a motor vehicle, trafficking stolen property, burglary of an occupied dwelling, and burglary of an unoccupied dwelling.
“These are serious crimes,” said Smith. “We don’t take anything for granted when you have someone who’s a career offender and who has an extensive criminal history.
“We ask everyone to lock your doors and vehicles. Please be aware of your surroundings during this time. Do not approach Rutherford,” said the sheriff. “People like him are desperate or they would not be leaving. He’ll probably be looking for a way to go and a change of clothes.”
Smith said residents may want to check their home security camera to see if there is any evidence of Rutherford’s presence. He is heavily tattooed, including on his forehead and brow.
The sheriff urged residents, if they spot Rutherford, to call 911 immediately. “It is important to not have lag time,” he said.
Anyone with less urgent information on Rutherford’s whereabouts, is asked to call 850-670-8500.