What did Hennepin County jail’s first ever escapee do with his three hours of freedom?

Michael Frank Simon has become the first man to escape from Hennepin County jail. Were his three hours on the outside worth it?

Michael Frank Simon has become the first man to escape from Hennepin County jail. Were his three hours on the outside worth it? KSTP

On Wednesday morning, before the sun rose on what was to be a cold, snowy Minnesota day, 57-year-old Michael Frank Simon allegedly busted open a window on the seventh floor of the Hennepin County Adult Detention Center. He had been working kitchen detail and wasn’t handcuffed. He saw his chance and took it.

Simon landed on a lower-level rooftop and ran along the top of a skyway until he could duck into a parking ramp, according to a witness who caught sight of him. Officers searched the ramp sometime later, scouring the place for a man with closely shaven hair, wearing an orange, standard-issue jumpsuit and a navy blue jacket. They couldn’t find him.

The jail has been open since 2001, and this is the first time that someone has managed to escape.

A surveillance camera caught sight of Simon heading down Third Street at a run, still wearing the same jacket and jumpsuit. The last trace of him was on the Stone Arch Bridge down by the river. It was around 7 a.m.

That’s the last we know of his whereabouts until the sheriff’s office, local law enforcement, and some U.S. Marshals found him three hours later, 12 miles away, in Little Canada. A tip allowed officers to nab him with a targeted traffic stop.

The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office isn’t sharing much while the investigation is still open. We don’t know yet how he managed to get a ride to Little Canada. We don’t know if that’s where he was going. We don’t know if he stopped to eat anything, to drink anything, to savor the little things available in the free world. All we know is that he broke a window and tasted freedom for three hours.

The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office told the Star Tribune that his plea deal won’t be affected, but it’s possible he could be facing another charge and more prison time. He was expected to get sentenced to two and a half years in December after pleading guilty to two counts of burglary. It’s uncertain how long it will be now before he’s free again. In the meantime, he’s being held at the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Oak Park Heights.

Simon’s criminal career is long and slippery. His first brush with the Hennepin County judicial system was in 1979, a theft case. He was in his late teens. After that came the litany of convictions -- burglary, attempted burglary, forging checks, conspiracy to receive stolen goods.

In 2015, he was found guilty of breaking into an office complex in Bloomington, using a pry bar to force his way into three separate businesses. He stole a pair of big-screen TVs, a Nikon camera, an iPod Nano, $23 in cash, and a bottle of Crown Royal whiskey. When he bumped into an employee still in the building, he told him he was a member of the cleaning crew and went along his way.

He got out of prison for the office complex caper six months ago and went on supervised release, during which he allegedly earned his most recent stint in jail by breaking into a chiropractic clinic in Edina and nabbing a credit card off a desk. Then (again, allegedly) he broke into another office in the same building and stole two laptops and a bunch of medals from the Minnesota Golf Association.

The next day, he supposedly used the clinic’s credit card at a few gas stations, filling up strangers’ tanks for less cash than the gas was worth. When he was finally arrested at a Minneapolis McDonald’s, he had burglary tools in his car.

One of the few things we know about the Hopkins burglar is that he’s bold. It takes a certain kind of person to be willing to risk years in jail for a few hours outside. It also takes a certain kind of person to grab $23 and a whiskey bottle while you’re trying to steal two TVs.

It takes the same kind of person willing to jump out a window, risk life, limb, and future freedom, for what basically amounts to a breath of fresh air.