The search continued Wednesday for an inmate who managed to walk out of a Houston courthouse after being left unattended by officers responding to a fight in a nearby courtroom .
Around 10 a.m. Tuesday, Michael Devon Combs was being detained in what is normally a secure holding area for people in custody. The holding area was located in the back of a courtroom on the 19th floor of Houston Criminal Court, said Mark Lipkin, Combs' attorney. Lipkin was in the holding area with Combs and had spoken to him just before escaping.
“I turned my back on him when everything happened. I mean, if she could give him advice, she would have told him that it's not smart to do it. Don’t do it,” Lipkin said.
In the waiting area, which the public cannot see, Combs sat on a metal bench and had a shackle, like “foot cuffs,” around his ankle, Lipkin said. The shackle was attached to a metal post above the bench.
Combs, 32, was awaiting a court hearing in which his bond would be revoked and a judge was expected to issue a new bond with a higher amount, Lipkin said. Combs has been accused of assaulting her girlfriend, including choking her, in March 2022.
“I was talking to him and he was quite upset. And he said he wanted to talk to the judge, and I said, 'Okay, give me a minute,'” said Lipkin, who said he then went to the other side of the holding area to talk to another customer.
While Combs was waiting for his hearing, a fight broke out in another courtroom on the same floor. Deputies, responding to a panic button alarm, ran to the nearby courtroom, leaving Combs unattended, Harris County Sheriff's Office Maj. Lynette Anderson said.
The fight in a nearby courtroom took place during a separate hearing in which relatives of a slain 16-year-old girl tried to attack her ex-boyfriend after he pleaded guilty to shooting her nearly two dozen times while she was walking her dog . in January 2022.
Lipkin said he heard the alarm and noticed the commotion of people running to the other courtroom. But because he had his back to Combs, Lipkin said he didn't notice when Combs ran away.
“I heard the chain, you know, hitting the metal of the post where he was chained,” Lipkin said, adding that he later saw “two officers running through that area. And then I found out they were chasing this guy.”
Anderson said it was about 10 or 15 minutes after the fight in the nearby courtroom before officers realized Combs had fled.
“Somehow he broke free of the shackles and walked out of the courtroom, got into the elevator and left the building,” Anderson said.
Once outside the courthouse, Combs removed an ankle monitor he was wearing, Anderson said. Authorities said Combs should be considered dangerous.
"We are investigating the whole matter and this is an isolated incident and we hope it doesn't happen again," Anderson said.
Lipkin said he had never experienced an incident like this in his 30 years as a lawyer.
“You never have a fight like that in another courtroom and then someone comes out of the court who is supposed to be in custody at the same time. … It was just a strange situation,” she said.