A Nebraska inmate who escaped from custody Thursday is suspected of burglarizing a home while on work release, authorities said.
Juan Ramirez, 33, was captured in Lincoln after he fled from a prison vehicle. Authorities took him into custody after a search that lasted about 2 ½ hours.
Ramirez had been interviewed by sheriff's deputies about 10:30 a.m. while on a Department of Roads work assignment in Cass County.
Deputies allege that he broke into a home Wednesday while working in Otoe County, said Chief Deputy Mike Holland.
Ramirez admitted to entering the home because he needed to use the restroom, Holland said, but said he didn't steal anything.
No charges have been filed against Ramirez. The Sheriff's Office is waiting for the homeowners, who were out of town, to return home Friday and tell deputies if anything is missing from their residence, Holland said.
A work supervisor decided to take Ramirez and another inmate back to Lincoln to determine if Ramirez was eligible to continue working, said Larry Wayne, deputy director of the Nebraska Department of Corrections.
“The work supervisor was following procedure,” Wayne said. “If we become aware of a pending criminal charge, we do not keep that individual working in the community.”
Wayne said Ramirez also could be charged with escaping from custody, a felony.
Ramirez escaped at 12:50 p.m. while riding in a prison vehicle on the way back to the Community Corrections Center in Lincoln.
He opened the door of the vehicle at 27th Street and Nebraska Highway 2 and ran from the area, said Lincoln Police Capt. Jim Davidsaver.
Police, the Nebraska State Patrol, a helicopter and K-9 units searched for Ramirez before he was found less than a mile from where he escaped, Davidsaver said.
He was hiding in the brush at the base of a tree on the south side of Tierra Park, near 30th Street and Stephanos Drive. Davidsaver said authorities apprehended him without incident at 3:30 p.m.
Ramirez was approved to work through the community corrections program. The program allows well-behaved and low security risk inmates who are within three years of being released to work for state agencies, Wayne said. Inmates are paid $1.21 to $3.78 per day.
“The benefits for the inmate is they get an opportunity to work outside of the facility, assimilating into society,” Wayne said.
Ramirez is serving 10 to 15 years for two counts of possession of a stolen firearm and one count of burglary in Dawes County. His tentative release date was April 7, 2015, but he was up for parole in August, Wayne said.
Ramirez exercised poor judgment, he said.
“It makes it even more unfortunate that he chose the course of action he did when he was probably going to go back into his community next month,” Wayne said.
In the fall, the Legislature's Judiciary and Appropriations Committees plan to hold a joint hearing to make sure proper oversight is being applied to community re-entry and work release programs, said State Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha, Judiciary Committee chairman. The date for the hearing has not been determined.
World-Herald staff writer Joe Duggan contributed to this report.