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LSH escapee Colt awaiting sentence
Colt entered guilty plea on federal charges
John Colt Utah booking photo

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — More than a year following his escape from Larned State Hospital, John Freeman Colt is scheduled to be sentenced on a single charge of failing to register under the Federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act. Colt escaped from the Sexual Predator Unit at LSH on June 30, 2021.

Before his capture on Sept. 27, 2021, Colt had traveled to Wayne County, Utah, and was the subject of a nationwide manhunt conducted by the U.S. Marshals’ Service assisted by the Pawnee County Sheriff’s Department. 

He was arrested by local Utah sheriff’s officers and U.S. Marshals, and moved to federal custody in an undisclosed location. Colt’s trial on the single federal count was originally scheduled for February 2022 but was continued to last June due to pandemic-related case backlog. 

Pawnee County officials were notified this week that Colt entered a guilty plea on Aug. 11, with sentencing scheduled for Oct. 27.

Under federal statute, a person convicted of failure to register faces a penalty including fines and up to 10 years in prison. State-convicted sex offenders may also be prosecuted under this statute if the sex offender knowingly fails to register or update a registration as required, and engages in interstate travel, foreign travel, or enters, leaves, or resides on an Indian reservation.

Knowingly failing to register, however, incurs a fine up to $250,000 and a prison term of up to 30 years.

Pawnee County officials were told that after completion of his sentence on the federal conviction, arrangements would then be made for Colt’s extradition back to Kansas. Through the Pawnee County Attorney’s Office, Colt is currently charged under Kansas law with aggravated escape from custody, a severity level 8 non-person felony, noted Pawnee County Attorney Douglas McNett. Additionally, Colt is still subject to his civil commitment to the Kansas Sexual Predator Treatment Program (SPTP), McNett said.

“I’ve already said that he’s not coming back into my custody,” noted Pawnee County Sheriff Scott King, whose department logged more than 760 hours assisting the U.S. Marshals during the search. “They can send him back to LSH where he belongs. He would be a rock star out there.”

In addition, three female former employees at Larned State Hospital were charged with aiding Colt in his escape. Prosecuted independently by the Pawnee County Attorney, one has since been sentenced; one is currently awaiting jury trial and one is being remanded as a material witness in Colt’s eventual return for court action in Kansas.

King and a contingent of other sheriffs in the state expressed their displeasure with LSH’s handling of the escape, which included a 5-1/2 hour reporting delay. In a letter to Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly last November, local law enforcement expressed concerns about the hospital’s security practices. Last February, King and the Pawnee County Commissioners sent a request for reimbursement to KDADS and the governor for a minimum of 661 hours spent on the investigation.

The state’s response

In March, the Commissioners and the PCSO received a reimbursement check for $17,696.66.

In the interim, Colt’s escape and the elopement of another LSH patient apprehended and returned last January prompted Gov. Kelly to request an independent review of security policies and practices to be completed at the end of March. While the report or its contents have yet to be made public, portions of the findings are currently being utilized by the facility to make security upgrades and personnel changes.

LSH post-escape activity

Following a recent quarterly meeting between KDADS and local law enforcement instituted since the review request, PCSO Undersheriff Larry Atteberry noted that security issues were being addressed, if not reported. Atteberry noted that KDADS co-deputy Scott Brunner referenced portions of the findings in saying that more cameras were in the process of being purchased as well as an attempt to merge old and new technology to upgrade their analog system.

Also not made public were personnel changes such as the promotion of 12-year SPTP program employee Hayleigh Bennett to the position of Chief of Operations in August, as well as the hiring of an unnamed assistant superintendent and chief of security.

The Tribune contacted Cara Sloan-Ramos per KDADS policy regarding media queries referencing the upgrades and personnel changes in September. While the request was acknowledged, no mention of the report was made, nor answers to posed questions nor additional information regarding LSH security have ever been offered.

Local concerns

While the facility does report instances of emergency counts to the PCSO that are recorded on the department’s activity log, local law enforcement admits to being in the dark about plans for additional security policy implementation.

“In my opinion, they are not ready for a person such as John Freeman Colt to return to their campus,” King said. “There needs to be more transparency all around; better training and at the very least some kind of psychological screening to see if the new hires can handle what they’ve signed up for.”

In the meantime, “Jails are already taxed with having to deal with these kind of people. They used to, hut they don’t have the staff any more,” King noted. “I’ve reached out for other sheriffs to hold transfers, but they just can’t. 

“It’s not something that we like to do, but it seems that we always take the state’s problems.”