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Man escapes from La Plata County Jail, is arrested in Animas River

Jonah Barrett-Lesko leads police on 26-minute chase days before his sentencing hearing
Durango Police Chief Bob Brammer pursues Jonah Barrett-Lesko on Tuesday afternoon in the Animas River at Santa Rita Park after he escaped from the La Plata County Jail. Barrett-Lesko eventually gave himself up without a struggle. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

A Durango man who first made news for allegedly having sexual intercourse with a horse escaped Tuesday from the La Plata County Jail.

Jonah Barrett-Lesko, 25, was arrested at 1:51 p.m. in the Animas River near Santa Rita Park, not quite a mile from the jail, said Ray Shupe, spokesman with the Durango Police Department.

Law enforcement first learned of the escape at 1:25 p.m. when someone reported seeing a man in a jail-issued jumpsuit running near Office Depot, Shupe said.

Durango Police Chief Bob Brammer happened to be driving by in the area and noticed Barrett-Lesko. By then, he had removed his jumpsuit and was running on the west side of the river in his boxer shorts, Brammer said in an interview with The Durango Herald.

“That’s what really attracted my attention to him because you don’t see half-naked people running through the woods in their boxer shorts,” Brammer said.

The chief and another officer pulled over and pursued the suspect. During the chase, the chief and Barrett-Lesko crossed the river multiple times before he surrendered.

“They ran through the river a couple of times, and then out into the middle of the river, and they had enough officers down there that surrounded him,” Shupe said.

Durango Police Chief Bob Brammer pursues Jonah Barrett-Lesko on Tuesday afternoon in the Animas River at Santa Rita Park after he escaped from the La Plata County Jail. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

The jail didn’t learn of the escape until someone reported seeing Barrett-Lesko running in his jail uniform. Staff members then “discovered that inmate Jonah Barrett-Lesko was missing from the rec yard area,” according to a news release issued Tuesday by the Sheriff’s Office.

Sheriff’s Office Lt. Pat Downs said Barrett-Lesko was in the rec yard by himself, something that is standard for him because he has some “keep separate orders.”

“There’s a video of him going up the wall, and then using his feet on one side and back on the other side,” Downs said. “... It appears he got out of some small hole in the upper fenced-in area of the old rec yard.”

Durango Police Chief Bob Brammer pursues Jonah Barrett-Lesko on Tuesday afternoon in the Animas River at Santa Rita Park after he escaped from the La Plata County Jail. Barrett-Lesko eventually surrendered without a struggle. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Barrett-Lesko was loose for 26 minutes from the time someone reported him to the time he was arrested.

Downs was unsure when an inmate was last able to escape from the La Plata County Jail, but he said, “it’s been a long time.”

Jonah Barrett-Lesko gives himself up to Durango Police Department officers and La Plata County Sheriff’s Office deputies on Tuesday afternoon in the Animas River at Santa Rita Park after he escaped from the La Plata County Jail. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)
Barrett-Lesko

“I know we’ve had some in the past – years and years ago – but I can’t recall when the last one would have been,” he said.

Barrett-Lesko was eventually returned to the jail.

When asked if anything might be done differently to keep Barrett-Lesko from escaping, Downs said, “I would think he doesn’t get to go to that rec yard.”

Barrett-Lesko was arrested in June on suspicion of having sexual intercourse with a horse on June 17 at the La Plata County Fairgrounds. The incident occurred during the middle of the night, but the horse’s caretaker had a video surveillance camera inside the stall and saw a live video feed of the incident on a mobile phone application, according to police.

He was released on bail, but arrested again on suspicion of several burglaries, including stealing six bicycles with a total value of $13,000, breaking into a parked car and shoplifting from stores.

Jonah Barrett-Lesko is escorted by La Plata County Sheriff’s Office deputies on Tuesday afternoon to a police cruiser at Santa Rita Park after he escaped from the La Plata County Jail. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

He pleaded guilty Aug. 13 to felony burglary and possession of burglary tools in a plea agreement with the 6th Judicial District Attorney’s Office. He was scheduled for sentencing Friday, and faced anything from probation to five years in prison.

While awaiting sentencing, he was able to post bail. But on Friday, while free on bail, he was arrested again on suspicion of attempted motor vehicle theft, Shupe said.

Brammer said Barrett-Lesko is a “prime example” someone who needs to be in jail, and why a jail reform bill introduced during the last legislative session was a bad idea. Under Senate Bill 273, law enforcement would have been further restricted when they can arrest someone versus issuing summonses. The bill died in a legislative committee.

“Even his initial crimes of molesting a horse was a misdemeanor, and those would have been just a summons and release,” Brammer said. “... We know who these people are and we need to have the tools in order to keep them off the street to ensure community safety as a whole. ... Even when he was in custody, he escaped from a jail and made a run for it.”

Barrett-Lesko is expected to be charged with felony escape.

Brammer said he happened to be on patrol as a way to “stay grounded” with officers in the field. He said it was good timing that he happened to be driving by the Santa Rita pump station when dispatch paged out the call and he saw a man running half-naked on the other side of the river.

Brammer said he’ll be ready to hit the streets again Wednesday.

“My uniform is clean; I just ran it through the washing machine, so it’s good to go,” he said. “I don’t know if my boots will be dry by then, but we’ll see.”

njohnson@durangoherald.com

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