The authorities in Alabama said on Monday that they had issued an arrest warrant for a corrections officer who disappeared with a murder suspect after they left a jail together last week for an appointment that turned out not to exist.
The officer, Vicky White, the assistant director of corrections for Lauderdale County, Ala., left the county jail at 9:41 a.m. on Saturday to take the inmate, Casey White, to a mental health evaluation at the county courthouse in Florence, just outside Muscle Shoals. Though Officer White and Mr. White have the same surname, they are not related, officials said.
The Lauderdale County sheriff, Rick Singleton, said at a news conference on Monday that an arrest warrant had been issued for Officer White on a charge of permitting or facilitating an escape in the first degree, though he added that it was possible that she had been coerced or threatened. “We know for sure she did participate,” he said.
Some details of the case suggest a premeditated escape plan.
Officer White had recently decided to retire and told colleagues of plans to move to the beach. The day she left with Mr. White was scheduled to be her last day of work, Sheriff Singleton said. At 56 years old, four years away from being able to access her retirement benefits, Officer White chose an atypical time to retire, he added.
Still, “everybody thought she was going to retire,” Sheriff Singleton said. “Nobody saw this coming.”
Officer White’s mother, Pat Davis, told the local Alabama ABC affiliate WAAY-TV that Officer White had sold her home and moved in with Ms. Davis five weeks ago. Officer White is a widow with no children.
Investigators are scrutinizing surveillance video footage and phone records to determine whether the correctional officer and her inmate had “any kind of relationship,” the sheriff said.
“In hindsight,” he added in a phone interview, “all things look different.”
The possibility that Officer White had facilitated an inmate’s escape stunned her fellow employees, the sheriff said. In recent years, Officer White had been voted the department’s employee of the year four times, chosen from more than 50 people working at the jail.
Her job entailed scheduling transportation for inmates to appear in court and ensuring that at least two armed deputies accompanied those charged with serious crimes. That means Officer White knew she was violating policy when she transported Mr. White alone, Sheriff Singleton said. Mr. White was charged with two counts of capital murder in 2020 in connection with a murder for hire.
Sheriff Singleton said Officer White had told the booking officer that she would drop Mr. White off at the courthouse herself to catch up with two vans carrying inmates that had just left.
She also told the booking officer that she would “seek medical assistance” for herself after dropping off Mr. White for his appointment because she was feeling ill. But Officer White did not go to a medical appointment, either, Sheriff Singleton said.
“We think that was an excuse,” he said.
Instead, they disappeared.
The authorities continued their search on Monday. Officer White’s abandoned patrol car was found on Friday morning, parked among cars for sale at Florence Square, a shopping mall two miles from the jail. Investigators determined that they had not gone to the courthouse at all, the sheriff said.
Mr. White is 6-foot-9 and weighs between 250 and 275 pounds. He was handcuffed and shackled when he left the jail, Sheriff Singleton said. The U.S. Marshals Service said on Sunday that it was offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the capture of Mr. White and the location of Officer White.
The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency issued a “blue alert” on Friday night for the missing officer. “Casey White is believed to be a serious threat to the corrections officer and the public,” the alert said.
Sheriff Singleton said Officer White was armed with a 9-millimeter handgun before she disappeared, leading investigators to believe that Mr. White was now armed.
Isabella Grullón Paz contributed reporting.