Bay Bulls escapee free for 15 hours: video

Police video shows a Bay Bulls, N.L., man believed to have been barricaded in his home for a week escaped while it was surrounded by the RCMP just before 9 p.m. Friday.

Barricaded man got out after police began flooding the house he was in

Leo Crockwell was arrested Saturday, after a week-long armed standoff with the RCMP in Bay Bulls, south of St. John's. He appeared in court Sunday on 16 charges, including five counts of attempted murder.

Police video shows a Bay Bulls, N.L., man believed to have been barricaded in his home for a week escaped while it was surrounded by the RCMP just before 9 p.m. Friday.

That means Leo Crockwell, 55, was free for 15 hours before police arrested him at a house on the outskirts of St. John's on Saturday.

"It is now known, by reviewing RCMP video, that Mr. Crockwell fled the house by a side window at approximately 8:54 p.m. Friday night, Dec. 10, 2010," according to an RCMP news release late Monday afternoon.  

RCMP Sgt. Chris Gladney and a police dog, Mirko, conducted a search of the perimeter of the house, the release said, adding that they located two shotguns with ammunition in close to Crockwell’s home.

The release also said the RCMP has asked Halifax Regional Police Services to conduct an independent review into all aspects of the local RCMP's tactical and critical incident response to the incident, "with specific emphasis on Crockwell's fleeing of the home and breaching of perimeter security."

Earlier Monday, RCMP in eastern Newfoundland played down how Crockwell was able to escape from police watch during the height of the week-long armed standoff.

Sgt. Boyd Merrill said it was a "minor mistake" that Crockwell was able to walk away from a house surrounded by police officers since Dec. 4, and that the escape has overshadowed the careful work the police had done in ensuring the standoff did not end in violence.

Sgt. Boyd Merrill said the RCMP handled the Bay Bulls standoff well, even though Leo Crockwell slipped away from officers. (CBC)

"Police work is not an exact science," said Merrill, who also defended how the force released information on Saturday by announcing that Crockwell was arrested after Mounties flooded his house with noise and water — but without mentioning that another police force found him in another community.

The standoff with Crockwell, who has a history of mental illness, began after police say he allegedly assaulted his sister and threatened her with a firearm.

The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary found Crockwell around noon on Saturday in the St. John's-area house.

At that moment, RCMP officers were again flooding his house with water, using noise-makers and attempting to contact him with a bullhorn, and were unaware their target was about 18 kilometres away, at his brother's house.

The RNC contacted RCMP officers, who arrested Crockwell and took him into custody.

Merrill said the force believes that while Crockwell was slipping out of the house, the RCMP were redeploying officers to hold hoses that filled the Bay Bulls house with water. Some of the officers were moved from positions that had surrounded the house. The RCMP had for days cut off access to roads in the community that led to the house.

Merrill said that Crockwell told officers after his arrest, "I was fine until you tried to drown me."

Motorist called police

At some point after escaping from the house, Crockwell walked out of Bay Bulls for about 12.6 kilometres. Around 11 a.m. on Saturday, Merrill said, Crockwell asked a homeowner for a lift into Petty Harbour. That motorist became aware of who Crockwell was and then notified police.

Crockwell got another lift from another person to a nearby store, where he bought cigarettes, and then got a lift to his brother's house.

Crockwell appeared in court Sunday on 16 charges, including five counts of attempted murder.

Merrill said that a decision was made Friday on whether to use lethal force in the standoff. RCMP decided instead to cut power and pump more than 225,000 litres of water into his home late Friday night. Merrill told reporters that this was a high-risk decision because it left part of the house unwatched by officers.

Despite the fact that Crockwell was able to evade police, Merrill said the operation was successful. Police refused to engage in gunfire with Crockwell, and had said from the start that they wanted to engineer a peaceful resolution to the standoff.

RCMP didn't initially release important details

The RCMP had repeatedly come in for criticism over how it disclosed information about Crockwell's escape and arrest.

On Saturday, Merrill had told reporters: "I can confirm the introduction of water, the introduction of noise and the introduction of losing the heat, taking and turning off the power into the residence, has resulted in the safe arrest of Mr. Crockwell today."

It took six hours for the force to acknowledge that Crockwell was found at another location.

The RCMP had originally said that "community information" led to Crockwell's arrest, but did not elaborate. That information turned out to be a tip called into the RNC in St. John's.

The RCMP have pointed to water-damaged audio and video monitors to explain how Crockwell was able to escape from the house and Bay Bulls itself.

RCMP cruisers had shut down access to roads around the green house where an armed standoff began on Dec. 4, after Crockwell had allegedly threatened members of his family.

Crockwell is expected to appear in court Tuesday for a bail hearing. The Crown is opposing his release on grounds that Crockwell has a history of mental illness.

During an appearance at provincial court on Sunday, Crockwell said the charges against him were "trumped up so much I can't believe."  

With files from Natalie Kalata and Chris O'Neill-Yates