By Benjamin Bullard
The Cullman Times
One of two Morgan County escapees wanted for fleeing a work release assignment over New Year’s Eve is back in jail following an early-morning arrest at a Cullman County residence Wednesday.
The fugitive, along with a Cullman County woman who allegedly assisted in the two alleged felons’ original escape, are back in custody following a cooperative effort that officials with both the Cullman and Morgan County sheriff’s offices described Wednesday as “very much a joint takedown.”
Johnny Wayne Johnson, 28, and Valerie Michelle Barnett, 30, were both arrested at approximately 2:30 a.m. Wednesday at a residence on County Road 698 south of Holly Pond. Johnson, whom Morgan County police said had a prior indictment on attempted murder charges in Cullman County, was serving time in Morgan County for drug manufacturing and possession charges. Barnett faces a charge of facilitating escape.
Both are being held in the Morgan County jail, where Johnson also faces an additional charge of second-degree escape.
According to Sgt. Terry Kelly with the Morgan County sheriff’s office, two suspects — Johnson and 24 year-old Steven Mears — allegedly walked off the job while on a work release assignment and fled in a car Barnett allegedly had waiting nearby.
“They walked off a work detail on New Year’s Eve at the Elks Club in Decatur,” Terry said. “That’s where the female involved in this picked them up and absconded. We were able to get footage from the security cameras that allowed us to identify the vehicle as a white Lexus, and by the process of elimination, we were able to identify this vehicle and tag number.”
Cullman County sheriff Mike Rainey said his department had worked closely with Morgan County law enforcement from the beginning to find the suspects, whom Morgan County sheriff’s investigators believed had fled to Cullman County.
“We received a BOLO on Dec. 31 from Morgan County regarding these two escapees from work release,” said Rainey Wednesday. “We believed that Johnson had ties to Cullman County; Morgan County notified us that he had escaped with a female, and that they were possibly en route here. Our guys have worked on it since that time, following up on a couple of tips from residents in the area, but we hadn’t yet been able to locate the suspects.
“Then, Cullman County K-9 officer Sgt. Josh Wallace came up with a lead early this morning, around 1:30 a.m. He contacted the Morgan County sheriff’s office, and they sent two patrol units down, including a K-9 unit. We had three units respond also, and once both departments had everybody in place, we apprehended the suspects at the residence.”
In a release, Morgan County sheriff Ana Franklin said Johnson allegedly put up some resistance before being subdued by a Morgan County K-9 unit outside the residence.
“Morgan County K-9 deputy Josh Gentry and his partner, K-9 Timber, then announced for all personnel in the house to come out with their hands up or the dog would be released,” reads the statement. “A man and woman finally came out of a rear bedroom. They were identified as Johnny Wayne Johnson and Valerie Michelle Barnett.
“Both were told to lie down and put their arms out so their hands were visible. The female complied; Johnson did not. He was ordered several times to show arresting officers his hands, but refused to comply.
“K-9 Timber was then employed. Johnson suffered two bite wounds, on the back of the head and his left arm. Johnson was treated and released by emergency medical personnel on the scene. He was also treated by on-duty medical staff at the Morgan County jail and placed on an antibiotic regimen.”
Kelly said Wednesday’s arrests stemmed from solid inter-agency cooperation.
“The Cullman County sheriff’s office was extremely helpful; they found the vehicle and developed two possible locations, with the second location being correct,” Kelly said. “Their efforts led to our being able to place these people back in jail.”
Rainey agreed, commending the officers who helped bring the alleged fugitives into custody.
“Sgt. Wallace and patrol officers Matt Kilpatrick and Randy Denny did an excellent job of helping get these guys off the street safely,” he said. “Anytime you’ve got an escape situation, you’re aware that and escapee on the run may resort to desperate measures to avoid being taken in by law enforcement. It was very much a joint takedown, and both our guys and the officers from the Morgan County sheriff’s office did a great job ensuring that it ended safely, and with the suspects back in jail.”
Barnett is being held on a $5,000 bond; Johnson’s bond totals $10,000.
* Benjamin Bullard can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com or by telephone at 734-2131 ext. 270.