Federal officials join search for Ohio rape suspect who escaped

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PAULDING, Ohio — Federal officials joined local authorities on Sunday as the search continues for an Ohio rape suspect who overpowered a sheriff’s deputy in a transport van, stole his gun and ammunition and fled.

Paulding County Sheriff Jason Landers said Sunday that authorities, including the FBI and U.S. Marshals, were working around the clock to find 32-year-old Branden Lee Powell, who escaped around noon Friday on an 80-mile trip from a psychiatric hospital in Toledo to the Paulding County Jail in northwest Ohio.

According to Landers, Powell was in leg shackles and in handcuffs secured to a belly belt when he jumped over the seat and put the deputy in a headlock, causing the van to crash into a ditch. Powell managed to get the deputy’s gun during a struggle and ordered the deputy at gunpoint to remove his restraints.

Powell then handcuffed the deputy to the steering wheel and disabled the van’s police radio and engine before fleeing with the deputy’s wallet, cellphone, gun and 30 rounds of ammunition, Landers said.

The deputy suffered minor injuries.

“He fought as long as he could, and as well as he could,” Landers said.

There was no mesh or other barriers separating the front and back of the van. They will be added, Landers said.

Powell was jailed July 8 and subsequently indicted on rape, attempted rape and sexual battery charges for an alleged assault in the Paulding County village of Antwerp. After being jailed, Powell slit his throat in a suicide attempt and underwent surgery at a hospital, Landers said. He was sent to Northwest Ohio Psychiatric Hospital on July 13.

Doctors at the psychiatric facility “obviously concluded he was fit for incarceration in our facility,” Landers said.

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