Inmate switches identities, escapes from Clark County jail

Michael Diontae Johnson was awaiting trial for harassment, assault, other crimes

By Andy Matarrese, Columbian Breaking News Reporter



A Clark County Jail inmate escaped from custody Thursday by swapping identities with another inmate scheduled to be released that day, according to the Clark County Sheriff’s Office.

Michael Diontae Johnson, 30, had been transferred to Clark County from a prison in Arizona, where he’d been serving a 24-year sentence for kidnapping and aggravated assault, in order to stand trial on multiple charges in a local domestic violence case, according to the sheriff’s office and the Arizona Department of Corrections.

Johnson was released about 8:30 a.m. The jail’s mistake came to light a few hours later during a scheduled meal and head count, the sheriff’s office said.

Undersheriff Mike Cooke said in a news release he couldn’t comment on how Johnson switched identities.

“I can say, however, that this escape required prior planning and the active cooperation of the second inmate,” Cooke said.

Johnson, who lived in Portland, is black, 5 feet 4 inches tall, weighs 140 pounds and has black hair and brown eyes.

Arizona court records show a Maricopa County jury found Johnson guilty in December of aggravated assault and attempt to commit armed robbery. Earlier that month, he also pleaded guilty to the kidnapping and assault charges, along with two counts of attempted sexual assault.

Along with the 24-year sentence, Johnson had to register as a sex offender, court records show. Records from the Arizona court also show Johnson had been convicted of escape in Jefferson County in 2009.

In Clark County, Johnson was arrested in March 2014 after allegedly making death threats and assaulting a woman in a domestic violence incident, according to court records. Johnson was set to stand trial in June. He is accused of bail jumping, two counts of harassment-death threats, intimidating a witness and fourth-degree assault. All were domestic violence crimes.

“I can tell you the tactical detective unit is working with the U.S. Marshals Service and making every effort to try to bring Mr. Johnson back into our custody,” sheriff’s Sgt. Fred Neiman said in an interview.

A secondary investigation by the sheriff’s office’s major crimes unit is underway to determine exactly how the identity swapping took place, Neiman said.

“I would suspect the other inmate, who switched places, will be facing some sort of legal sanction, but that will be determined by the investigation and the prosecutor’s office,” he said.

The inmate, whose name was not disclosed, was not released as originally scheduled, Neiman added.

Jail chief Ric Bishop said in the release the jail is about six weeks away from implementing a biometric screening tool that would have prevented this type of escape. After installation, the system will collect inmates’ fingerprints as they’re booked into the jail, then will match those fingerprints before the inmates are released.