Portland Police Say COVID-19 Cleaning Crew Allowed Attempted Murder Suspect’s Escape From Custody

Police locked down the building, but by then it was too late: Video footage revealed the suspect had already escaped.

An unlatched door is all that stood between David Dahlen and freedom from police custody.

The Portland Police Bureau says Dahlen, who was being held at the Central Precinct for attempted murder of a Portland police officer, escaped from custody Jan. 2 after a COVID-19 cleaning crew failed to fully close the door of his holding cell. (During the pandemic, police say, the protocol has been to perform "daily enhanced cleaning and disinfecting" in holding rooms.)

"While Dahlen was in the holding room, two members of a contracted cleaning crew were doing COVID-19 disinfecting in the Detective Division," the bureau said in a Jan. 4 statement. "One of the cleaning crew members opened the door to the holding room, then closed it again after they realized the room was occupied."

After the cleaning crew left, police say, Dahlen, 24, pushed open the door, which was apparently left unlatched. Police say Dahlen then made his way to a stairwell, which had remained unlocked per fire safety protocols, and exited the building through a side door.

Minutes later, around 5:30 pm, police say, officers returned to the holding cell and discovered that Dahlen was gone. The police then locked down the building, but by then it was too late: Video footage revealed that Dahlen had already escaped. The bureau is currently trying to locate him.

"As for the method of his escape, the Portland Police Bureau takes the safety and security of individuals in our custody very seriously," the bureau said in a press release Monday. "PPB will be doing an after-action, which is a comprehensive internal review of our procedures regarding holding cells. It will contain recommendations for improving those procedures to prevent anything like this from happening again."

Dahlen escaped hours after his arrest. Police had located him on Saturday and arrested him on a warrant for the Dec. 24 attempted murder of Jennifer Pierce, an officer with the Portland police.

Dahlen is accused of ramming Pierce with a car he'd stolen, then speeding away from the Southeast Portland gas station where she confronted him on Christmas Eve. Pierce suffered a fractured pelvis.

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