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Man charged with escaping police custody twice at Falls hospital

LOCKPORT – Niagara Falls police and Niagara County prosecutors are out to show burglary suspect Robert L. Shimmel that you can’t run away from your legal troubles, even in a hospital.

Shimmel, 34, of Willow Avenue in the Falls, allegedly tried to make a break for freedom on two visits to Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center earlier this year, leading to an indictment on two felony counts of second-degree escape. He pleaded not guilty Aug. 4 in Niagara County Court.

In both instances, Niagara County Assistant District Attorney Claudette S. Caldwell said, Shimmel told police after a Falls City Court appearance that he needed to go to the hospital.

On Feb. 18, Officer Thomas Rutkowski wrote that he was at Memorial finishing a domestic violence report shortly before 7 p.m. when he saw several hospital security officers running toward an alley and heard a lot of shouting coming from that direction.

He quickly learned that Shimmel had been brought in by an unidentified corrections officer from the Niagara County Jail, but the prisoner had run away, clad only in a hospital gown and slippers, while being taken by a hospital employee from one place to another within the medical center. He dashed down a stairway near the cardiac center.

Five other officers joined the search for Shimmel, who was caught within a few minutes by Officer Nicholas Granto in the 600 block of Ninth Street, two blocks from the hospital.

On May 26, Shimmel allegedly did it again. At about 2 p.m., he was taken from City Court to Memorial in a Rural/Metro ambulance after complaining of chest pain. Officer Adam Licastro, who followed the ambulance to the hospital, talked to Shimmel at the emergency room. According to Licastro’s report, Shimmel told him, “I was lying about the chest pain. I just wanted to get brought here so I can have my meds changed.”

As Nicastro stepped over to the nurses’ station to report that Shimmel wasn’t really in pain, Shimmel jumped off the Rural/Metro gurney and tried to run away, at least as fast as he could while wearing handcuffs and ankle shackles.

He made it through the emergency room doors and into the parking lot before he fell and scraped his knees. Licastro recaptured him. Shimmel was treated for the scrapes and taken back to court.

Niagara Falls Police Chief E. Bryan DalPorto said Shimmel’s escapes prompted an internal investigation and changes in police policies.

“We have altered our policies and have worked with the Niagara County Sheriffs and Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center to prevent this from reoccurring. The incident was investigated fully by our department but I cannot discuss personnel matters,” DalPorto said in an email.

Caldwell told County Judge Sara Sheldon at the Aug. 4 arraignment that the evidence against Shimmel includes police body-cam videos with sound.

Shimmel had been in custody after being arrested in connection with a house burglary on Linwood Avenue in the Falls. That burglary charge, which is not part of the indictment, remains before City Court, Caldwell said. Police arrested Shimmel on that occasion after he was seen running down Linwood carrying a shotgun allegedly stolen in the break-in.

Shimmel, who has two previous felony convictions, is being held without bail in Niagara County Jail as an alleged parole violator, stemming from a one-to-three-year sentence for a Falls burglary in 2013.


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