Captured escapee's lawyer: He never meant 'to cause unrest'

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PITTSFIELD — Harry Chandler was preparing to return to jail about 2:05 p.m. Monday when his leg shackles were removed so he could put on his pants.

He had been at Berkshire Medical Center for several days, receiving treatment for infections to his hands.

When Deputy Todd O'Neil reached down to reapply the restraints, Chandler allegedly slipped past O'Neil and ran out of the room, pushing a nurse out of the way in the process.

Details of the incident, which led to a three-day manhunt, were revealed for the first time Friday during Chandler's arraignment in Central Berkshire District Court.

O'Neil was able to catch up to Chandler and grab him, but a struggle ensued and Chandler, who is trained in martial arts, began punching O'Neil in the left eye and right cheek. He broke free and ran down the stairs toward the hospital lobby with O'Neil giving chase.

O'Neil shouted for someone to lock the door, but Chandler made it outside and ran south on North Street, wearing only a pair of orange jail-issued pants with no shirt or shoes.

The escape triggered an extensive search involving dozens of law enforcement officers from several agencies. Chandler was captured without incident Thursday at a Robbins Avenue home, based on a tip.

Chandler, 33, whose address is listed in court documents as homeless, pleaded not guilty to charges of assault on a correctional officer, assault and battery on a health care provider and escape. He is being held without the right to bail, and has several open criminal matters, all of which have been continued to Aug. 15.

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"Harry expressed that it was never his intention to cause unrest in the community or stress upon his family," his attorney, Marc Vincelette, said in a statement released Friday afternoon. "He appreciates all who wish him well in his recovery from this deadly illness, addiction."

Vincelette also said he was "satisfied that he understands his legal position and confident that the Berkshire County Sheriff's Office will continue to evaluate and treat his current condition."

On July 3, Chandler was arrested on a warrant related to breaking and entering and larceny charges from an April 2019 incident.

After being taken to the Berkshire County jail and House of Correction and undergoing a routine medical evaluation, it was determined that he needed further evaluation at Berkshire Medical Center.

He was taken there and was under the supervision of staff from the Berkshire County Sheriff's Office, according to a probable cause report.

On Thursday, Berkshire County Sheriff Thomas Bowler said his office might reconsider its protocols in dealing with prisoners in custody, based on what happened at the hospital.

"We would like to thank all of the law enforcement agencies that assisted with the search and capture, as well as Berkshire Health Systems for their cooperation with the investigation and the general public for all of the information provided," the office said in a statement.

Bowler said the office also received help from the Massachusetts State Police, the Western Massachusetts Gang Task Force, the Hampden County Sheriff's Office, the FBI, New York State Police, Connecticut State Police, the U.S. Marshals Service, and local police departments in Dalton, Lanesborough, Lee and Lenox, as well as others across the New York state line.

Bob Dunn can be reached at bdunn@berkshireeagle.com, at @BobDunn413 on Twitter and 413-496-6249.


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