Two robbery defendants who escaped from the Palo Alto courthouse on Nov. 6 allegedly orchestrated an elaborate plan by phone from the jailhouse, according to court documents filed by the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office.
East Palo Alto residents John Bivins, 47, and Tramel McClough, 46, are accused of making a brazen escape from the courthouse located at 270 Grant Ave., which triggered a nearly three-week manhunt ending with their separate captures in Stockton and San Leandro.
Investigators reviewing jail phone calls made by both men found that McClough had allegedly frequently called his girlfriend, Marquita Kirk, using his assigned pin number, which each inmate has in order to place any phone calls, according to a statement of facts filed in the case. On Nov. 5 at 9:45 p.m., a phone call was placed from McClough's housing unit to Kirk's phone, but the call was made using another inmate's pin number.
Police said that inmates will often use the pin number of another inmate during phone calls when they are trying to hide their communications from law enforcement who might be monitoring the calls while investigating crimes. The jailhouse calls are recorded and stored digitally, so when a detective listened to the recording, he recognized McClough's voice placing the call, according to the statement of facts.
McClough and Kirk allegedly discussed positioning two different cars near the Palo Alto courthouse; McClough allegedly wanted the cars to be positioned in separate places to make it easy for him to find. He and Kirk allegedly discussed the proximity and direction of Oregon Expressway and nearby residential neighborhoods. Kirk allegedly confirmed that both cars were already obtained and she was in one of them as they talked during the call. They referred to the cars as number 1 and number 2, and the parking limitations nearby such as the two-hour and four-hour restrictions.
McClough allegedly told Kirk that if everything goes as planned, the action would happen "going in" to the courthouse and it would be no later than 9:15 or 9:30 a.m.
A search warrant of Kirk's cellphone revealed photographs taken of the exterior areas surrounding the courthouse including streets, street signs, the front of the courthouse and the exterior door of the facility that the inmates used during their escape. The photos, which included the hallways, doors, stairwells and other elements of the interior building, were taken on Oct. 9, the statement of facts said. Deputies arrested Kirk and Rene Hunt, 54, an associate of one of the escapees, as accomplices. Hunt allegedly arranged for one of the getaway cars, a burgundy Toyota Camry, according to the sheriff's office.
Bivins and McClough were arrested in February for allegedly taking $64,400 worth of cellphones and other merchandise from a Verizon store in Sunnyvale in an armed robbery. They allegedly displayed a handgun and a knife; forced the employees to open a safe; tied up the workers and locked them in the bathroom, according to the sheriff's office.
As they were being led by a sheriff's deputy to the courtroom at 9:30 a.m. for a hearing on the robbery and other charges, they managed to separate from a larger group of inmates being escorted by two deputies. Bivins and McClough eluded the deputy who was supervising them and fled out a side exit door, despite being handcuffed and chained around the waist, setting off the building's security alarm. Investigators later found the restraints and a handcuff key discarded outside the courthouse.
The inmates ran across the street toward the awaiting Camry, then they abandoned the sedan a block south of the courthouse on Sheridan Avenue. A witness saw the car come to a sudden stop. About 10 to 15 seconds later, a large white U-Haul van pulled up directly behind the Camry; the witness saw a bald man exit the sedan and enter the U-Haul passenger's side. The van accelerated north on Sheridan Avenue and turned east on Park Boulevard toward Oregon Expressway.
Before the Camry arrived on Sheridan, another witness saw a woman park the U-Haul on Sheridan and leave the area in a silver-colored Dodge Charger, according to the statement of facts.
Investigators did a regional search for the men, including residences in Oakland and Newark. They linked Bivins and McClough to a 1999 green Ford Explorer with California license plates. Just before 5 p.m. on Nov. 21, investigators observed the Ford Explorer drive to a residence in the 200 block of East Iris Avenue in Stockton. The Explorer fled at high speeds from police, exiting Interstate Highway 5 at 8 Mile Road. McClough, who was the driver, fled on foot and was apprehended at a Walmart Supercenter. The unidentified passenger took over the vehicle and fled police at high rates of speed. Police fired shots at the driver, but he escaped capture.
Moments later, an employee at a nearby Chevron gas station about 13 miles from the shooting location reported a man who was bleeding profusely. The man was driving a green SUV and left after fueling the vehicle, according to the sheriff's office. A detective reviewing gas station surveillance video identified Bivins as the man driving the Explorer. The detective noted that Bivins' clothing was bloodstained and that he was holding his arm near his waistband, indicating he might have been shot during the chase.
Bivins was taken into custody on Nov. 26 after the U.S. Marshals Service and police located him at the Fairmont Inn in San Leandro at 9 a.m. as he was attempting to enter a gray Saturn SUV. He allegedly resisted arrest and told police officers to kill him. He was in possession of a loaded firearm when arrested, and he was taken to Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley for treatment of the gunshot wound.
Both men are charged with one count of escaping from jail after being charged and confined. They are scheduled to appear in court in San Jose on Jan. 4 to enter pleas.