Escaped murder suspect who drove off in sheriff's vehicle arrested at New Orleans hotel, authorities say

The manhunt for an escaped Louisiana murder suspect came to an end Tuesday when authorities tracked the man to a New Orleans hotel two days after he pepper-sprayed a deputy and made off in her marked sheriff's vehicle.

Leon Ruffin, 51, was first arrested in July by the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office on suspicion of murder and had been in custody at the local jail awaiting the resolution of his case before making the brazen Sunday escape, jail records show. U.S. Marshals and investigators with the sheriff's office and local police tracked Ruffin to the New Orleans hotel, where they took him into custody Tuesday afternoon without incident, Sheriff Joseph Lopinto said at a news conference.

Ruffin was expected to face additional charges for the motor vehicle theft, escape and assault on the sheriff's deputy. More charges may be added as the investigation continues, Lopinto said.

Lopinto declined to reveal the name of the hotel in which Ruffin was staying when prompted Tuesday by a reporter, citing the fact that investigators were in the process of searching his room after obtaining a warrant. The sheriff's office also expected that "multiple" people would be arrested and charged for aiding Lopinto in his escape attempt, Lopinto said.

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Jefferson Parish Sheriff Joseph Lopinto speaks Tuesday at a press conference announcing that fugitive Leon Ruffin was taken back into custody after the murder suspect escaped Sunday.
Jefferson Parish Sheriff Joseph Lopinto speaks Tuesday at a press conference announcing that fugitive Leon Ruffin was taken back into custody after the murder suspect escaped Sunday.

Ruffin pepper sprayed deputy, stole her vehicle

Ruffin had been transported Sunday afternoon to a New Orleans hospital to receive medical treatment for an apparent seizure, which Lopinto previously indicated he believed the inmate fabricated.

When Ruffin was discharged around 6:40 p.m. that evening, a deputy was preparing to transport him back to the Jefferson Parish jail in Gretna, located just east of New Orleans across the Mississippi River. But before the deputy's marked Ford Explorer could even leave the parking lot, Ruffin "created some type of disturbance" that prompted the deputy to exit the vehicle and go to the inmate's door, where he sprayed her with pepper spray, Lopinto said.

It was unclear where Ruffin obtained the pepper spray, as the transporting deputy still had her own canister, Lopinto said.

Ruffin then charged at the deputy before getting behind the wheel of the Explorer and fleeing, prompting the deputy to fire her weapon as the inmate sped through the parking lot.

The vehicle was located within hours that night in the New Orleans neighborhood of Algiers on the west bank of the Mississippi River, according to the sheriff's office.

After escape, sheriff doesn't foresee medical transport changes

Investigators who tracked Ruffin to the New Orleans hotel surrounded the property before taking him back into custody around 2:30 p.m. local time Tuesday, Lopinto said.

Ruffin, who was alone in the room at the time of his arrest, is believed to have been staying at the hotel ever since he made his escape. It's unclear what his longterm plan would have been, but Lopinto said investigators believe that he had help from multiple others who he said would be arrested and charged.

"Pretty much locked up in a hotel room instead of a jail cell," Lopinto said. "I don’t think he had a really good, good time over the last two days."

In addition to the murder charge, Ruffin was also charged in July with obstruction of justice; illegally carrying a firearm (since he has already been convicted of felonies); aggravated assault with a firearm; and aggravated criminal damaging to property.

Asked by a reporter whether he he envisions that the sheriff's office medical transportation policy would be revised, Lopinto said it was unlikely. Any "wholesale policy changes" would only serve to punish a large inmate population, many of whom are in need of legitimate medical care, Lopinto said.

"You wish you could take people on their face and say, 'OK, you're hurt and we're going to treat you with the respect that you deserve,'" Lopinto said. "You try to treat them as adults and this person took advantage of it; most of the inmates don't."

Eric Lagatta covers breaking and trending news for USA TODAY. Reach him at

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Leon Ruffin: Escaped murder suspect arrested at New Orleans hotel