MEBANE, NC — An 11-year-old boy left police with a big clue Friday after an attempted burglary when he was alone at his home in Mebane, about 20 miles northwest of Chapel Hill. He whacked the suspect, 19-year-old Jataveon Dashawn Hall, in the head with a machete, leaving him with a gash that led to Hall’s eventual arrest Sunday. Police have questions for Hall, but also for hospital officials, who they said contributed to a series of missteps that allowed the suspect to remain on the lam for two days.
The boy, Braydon Smith, was talking on his phone with his mother, who lives in another state, around 11 a.m. Friday when he saw the suspect later identified as Hall crawl through a window. Hall had found a pellet gun in the house, and used it to force Braydon into his bedroom and then into his closet, according to reports.
Braydon told a Durham television station after the ordeal that he knew the pellet gun wasn’t loaded, and slipped out of the closet, grabbed the machete he had bought with gift cards to cut down trees, took a swing and hit the intruder in the back of the head.
“I knew I had to act in the heat of the moment,” Braydon told ABC affiliate WTVD in Durham.
A scuffle ensued, and the intruder kicked Braydon in the stomach, but Braydon raised his machete again and took a swing, missing the second time, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.
The intruder landed another kick, this time hitting Braydon in the head, but the boy had left his mark — a wound that would likely require treatment and, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office said later, blood evidence that would help them get a conviction.
After kicking the boy in the head, the intruder “turned to grab several items, including a television and PlayStation,” the sheriff’s office said, but “realized he was bleeding significantly from the machete strike” and “dropped the electronics, exited the residence.”
Hall and two other suspects, who remain at large, fled the scene. Because of the Braydon’s actions, authorities remained at the residence to ensure his and his family’s safety. Braydon’s mother, who heard about 12 minutes of the confrontation on the phone, had alerted a relative to call 911.
In a news conference Friday, Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood credited Braydon’s quick thinking, but with a note of caution.
“This is a very tough kid who kept his wits about him,” Blackwood said. ” At the same time, I want to reflect that this youngster, his family, and indeed this community, are very lucky this event did not have a tragic ending for the child.”
Police were confident at that time they’d be able to arrest Hall because he had walked into University of North Carolina-Hillsborough Hospital about 1 p.m. to seek treatment for his still-bleeding head wound. A sheriff’s sergeant was having lunch at the hospital at the time, but had “no legal authority to hold him in custody” because Hall was still considered a suspect,” the sheriff’s office said.
Suspect Told Nurse Police Were After Him: Sheriff
Everything worked as it was supposed to at the Hillsborough hospital. Brian Ellis, a hospital police officer, flagged Hall in the facility’s system while authorities gathered the required information to bring charges against him, according to the sheriff’s office statement. A local magistrate issued warrants Friday afternoon for breaking and entering, second-degree kidnapping, assault on a child under the age of 12 and interfering with emergency communications.
With warrants in the system, hospital officials were asked to notify law enforcement authorities prior to discharging Hall so they could take him into custody — standard practice in cases such as this, the sheriff’s office said.
“The arrangement all of our area law enforcement agencies have with hospital police of ensuring the eventual arrest of a suspect after the suspect receives medical care, has been in place for decades,” sheriff’s office Chief Deputy Jamison Sykes said in the release. “I cannot remember another time when it has failed.”
The system failed in this case, though, and the sheriff’s office and hospital are pointing fingers at each other to determine what went wrong.
The problem occurred when Hall was transferred to UNC’s Chapel Hill hospital due to the severity of his head wound, the sheriff’s office said. Authorities said both Ellis, the Hillsborough hospital police officer, and a charge nurse there, had followed the protocol by notifying Chapel Hill hospital police of the pending charges against Hall.
But when police called the hospital early Saturday morning, they learned that Hall had left against medical advice about 10 hours earlier. The sheriff’s office was never notified, and an investigation revealed “Hall had told a nurse he needed to leave because the police were going to be looking for him,” according to the statement.
The sheriff’s office said that it’s clear from the phone call with the Chapel Hill police officer that authorities there were not aware Hall had left the hospital almost 10 hours earlier.
“Our agency is very concerned about the events in this case,” Sykes said in the statement. “Effective immediately, we will institute policy changes necessary to protect the public in situations like this. We expected to be notified prior to Hall’s discharge. When Hall left the hospital Friday evening against medical advice, we certainly should have been notified. But most concerning of all is that hospital police did not even know Hall had left the premises almost 10 hours prior. Indeed, Hall’s absence was only discovered when we placed a phone call to them.”
Video footage showed Hall leaving the hospital around 7:54 p.m., his head bandaged, wearing a hospital gown and blue socks, and carrying what appeared to be a cup of water, police said.
Hall was arrested in Burlington Sunday at the home of his mother and stepfather and returned to Hillsborough, where he was scheduled to be arraigned Monday afternoon. He is being held at the Orange County Jail on $100,000 bail.
The hospital defended its actions, telling WTVD in a statement that Hall was in the legal custody of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office — an assertion the department denied— and that it is “the responsibility of law enforcement to closely monitor the status of suspects in their custody while those patients are receiving medical treatment.”
Blackwood said in a statement Sunday that while he is “not in the business of assigning blame … it has become clear to me that another statement was necessary to defend the actions of my deputies and investigators and to place this matter in the correct context.”
‘This Guy Could Have Killed My Child’
However it happened, Braydon Smith’s mother, Kaitlin Johnson, isn’t happy.
Johnson heard about 12 minutes of the confrontation between her son and the burglar, and “it was horrifying,” she told WTVD.
“There’s no other way to put it,” she said. “I didn’t know that he would be OK.”
Braydon told the news outlet he didn’t have time to be afraid.
“I knew it wasn’t loaded, so I just sat down and got in my closet like he told me to,” Braydon told WTVD. “He went into the living room to grab my phone and make sure I didn’t call 911 or anything. When I saw him try to put it in his pocket, I grabbed my machete off of my wall and went to hit him. I hit him in the back of the head. …”
Braydon’s family was anxious in the hours between the attempted burglary Friday morning and Hall’s arrest Sunday.
“Who is responsible? Who should have been there watching him? Who should have been there sitting outside the emergency department? Who is responsible for allowing this criminal to walk out of UNC Hospital?” Ashley Matthews, Braydon’s aunt, told WTVD. “We want to know who it is, and we want somebody to take responsibility.”
Johnson said she has “so many questions” about how Hall was able to leave the hospital without being detected.
“It was infuriating,” she told WVTD. “This guy could have killed my child.”
Unfazed, Braydon told would-be burglars they shouldn’t break into other people’s homes.
“You shouldn’t have done what you’ve done,” he said during the WTVD interview, “and you’re better off to get a job than breaking into other people’s houses.”