Manhunt underway in downtown Houston after inmate reportedly escaped custody after court appearance

According to the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, Nigel Thomas Sanders, 35, was able to escape as he was being brought back to jail after his court appearance.

HOUSTON — Authorities spent Thursday afternoon and evening scouring downtown Houston in search of an inmate who was able to escape custody after a court appearance.

Harris County Precinct 1 Constable’s Office officials said Nigel Thomas Sanders, 35, jumped into the bayou after escaping custody after a court appearance, although during a news conference just before 7 p.m., Harris County Sheriff’s Office officials said they couldn’t confirm he went into the water.

Law enforcement agencies used crime scene tape to block off multiple sections of downtown while they searched for Sanders, who was described as being about 5 feet, 5 inches tall and 165 pounds. They said he should be considered to be dangerous and to not approach him if you see him. They also said they believed he was armed with a knife and was a threat to the community.

“We believe he had a knife,” HCSO Assistant Chief Phillip Bosquez said.

The search efforts were focused around downtown, but officials said they believe Sanders is transient and doesn’t have any known neighborhoods that he frequents.

“We do believe he is a dangerous individual and so there is still a threat to the community at this time,” Bosquez said.

According to court records, Sanders is currently facing three burglary charges and an unlawful possession of a weapon by a felon charge.

Houston police said he was last seen wearing orange pants and a black shirt. They had boats in the bayou to help with the search.

How did he escape?

Officials with HCSO said Sanders made a court appearance at 1301 Franklin Street and was able to escape on the way back to jail around 3:30 p.m.

They said he got in a woman’s car and held her at knifepoint, but crashed on Commerce Street and ran away.

“He jumped in that car and she wrecked it within just a few feet,” Bosquez said.

Authorities said that was the last time he was seen on camera.

HCSO officials said the woman who was assaulted was OK and she worked at the Criminal Justice Center for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.

HCSO officials said once they got the report that an escape had taken place, they shut down the jail and counted inmates. That’s when they realized Sanders was gone.

The Harris County Precinct 1 Constable’s Office handles security at the courthouse, so they were leading the investigation. The Houston Police Department and Harris County Sheriff’s Office, among other law enforcement agencies, were helping with the search. Anyone with information about the whereabouts of the man who escaped is asked to call 911 or Crime Stoppers.

Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg released a statement about her office’s employee who was caught in the middle, and the search for the suspect.

“Earlier today, one of our employees was held against her will by a man with a knife who apparently escaped from official custody. We are thankful and grateful that she was not physically harmed during this incident.

The general public should be on heightened alert that this man has yet to be apprehended, but we are confident that law enforcement will be able to find and apprehend the suspect.

Once he is arrested, we expect to prosecute this defendant and seek justice in this case.”

Update on search

Here’s the update provided by HCSO officials just before 7 p.m. Thursday:

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UH-Downtown goes into secure mode

The University of Houston-Downtown was placed on secure mode Thursday around 4:35 p.m. due to the police activity.

The university posted this message to social media.

A social media post from UHD directed staff members to go inside, lock the doors and avoid windows. According to university officials, no students were on campus at the time but staff members who were there were told to follow the instructions.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article reported the inmate escaped from the Harris County Jail, but authorities corrected that and said he was able to get away during a court appearance. Officials also initially said it was an assistant district attorney who was held at knifepoint, but later said it was a staff member with a different title.

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