Escaped inmate apprehended in Wadena
Ryan Paul Petro, an inmate who escaped during transition into court at the Wadena County Courthouse Monday, Oct. 28, was apprehended as of Tuesday evening in the city of Wadena.
Further details were not available at press time as the Wadena County Sheriff's Office gave notice of his apprehension around 5 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 29.
A regional effort to locate Petro started at about 2:44 p.m., Monday, Oct. 28, involving 25-30 officers, two drones, a helicopter, two dogs on the scent and about two dozen reported sightings by area residents.
Petro, considered dangerous, was set for an omnibus hearing at 1:30 p.m. Monday, for charges of misdemeanor obstructing legal process, misdemeanor disorderly conduct, misdemeanor damage to property, misdemeanor fleeing on foot and felony conditions of release- first degree burglary. Petro was dressed in an orange shirt, tan pants and wore handcuffs.
Due to the unknowns of what Petro may do and the proximity to area schools, Wadena-Deer Creek Elementary School, M State College and Wadena-Deer Creek Middle High School, Tri-County Health Care and The Meadows were all put on soft lockdowns Tuesday. Another area school, Bertha-Hewitt also went into a soft lockdown Tuesday. That means building doors are locked or manned, there is a police presence, but daily activities continue at the schools.
How did it happen?
Wadena County Sheriff Mike Carr said the design of the Wadena County Courthouse is such that at one point in transitioning the inmate out of the jail, through a hallway, before reaching a holding area, he was able to flee down the hall, exit a door and escape from custody. Carr said they've never had an escape like this before, not in his time.
"There is an unsecure portion, it's not at a fault of how we do business, you've got to escort somebody out for court," Carr said. "In a perfect world, you'd go from the jail to a secured portion."
Petro was not in leg restraints, Carr said, as inmates are brought up two flights of stairs, making it difficult to coordinate the steps in restraints. Inmate safety must be considered.
From the moment of escape, law enforcement actively searched the area and following any leads the public had, according to Carr and Wadena Chief of Police Naomi Plautz.
"Our response is pretty incredible," Carr said once the call went out of his escape. The county actually had about 15 officers in training in Wadena at the time, meaning the group was able to saturate the city quickly, even while calls were still coming in. Yet, Petro slipped through somewhere. Initially, officers were canvassing the businesses and homes in the immediate area.
Shortly after the search started, law enforcement put out a Code Red and an IPAWS alert, both of which act like an instant alert, giving all area cell phone users a short message about the incident.
Here's a brief timeline of events as they unfolded Monday.
- Petro escaped Wadena County Courthouse when he was being transitioned from the jail to a hallway at about 2:44 p.m., Monday.
- He was spotted near Steve's Alignment, Cozy Theatre and SuperOne Foods in three separate 911 calls, one right after another as he headed north.
- A person matching the description was spotted near M State just after 3 p.m., but that turned out to be a parent wearing orange.
- A report of someone wearing orange running into a cornfield near Leaf River Road came in after 4 p.m. Officers believe this was an actual sighting of Petro. This area was heavily scoured by dogs, drones, State Patrol helicopter with heat detecting devices and officers on foot, with no contact made. The search continued well after dark in this area.
- Reports again surfaced near 3rd Street SW in Wadena after 7 p.m. with no contact made.
- A single report of a sighting came from the area of 150th Street and 125th Ave., east of Wadena later that evening., with no contact made.
Each of these reports were checked by an officer on scene, then followed up by an investigator.
This isn't Petro's first escape from police. He has a long history with law enforcement in Wadena County including an escape from custody in 2005, followed by convictions for burglary, criminal sexual conduct, drug sales and theft.
Petro currently has 13 pending charges from six different incidents. Those stem from as far back as August 2018 and include first degree burglary, and charges related to possession of legend drugs. In March of 2019 he fled police and once again he was charged with fleeing a police officer in Sept. 2019, which was his latest entry into the Wadena County Jail.
Petro's notable arrest in 2018 came when he was found to have hundreds of pieces of women's clothing he'd stolen from a nearby home. He was reportedly seen exiting a home wearing the women's clothes.