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Saskatchewan police search for escaped murder suspect after men ambush guards

PRINCE ALBERT, Sask. — Police in Saskatchewan were searching Thursday for a murder suspect who made a brazen escape from custody after two armed and masked attackers ambushed corrections officers.

Braidy Vermette, 27, escaped while being taken to a hospital for a self-inflicted arm injury Wednesday night in Prince Albert.

Police and the Saskatchewan Justice Ministry say the attackers were outside the hospital when they used a gun and bear spray on the guards escorting Vermette.

"They took Mr. Vermette willing into a vehicle and disappeared from the scene," Justice spokesman Drew Wilby said Thursday.

The men drove away in a dark-coloured SUV.

The corrections officers did not have guns, Wilby said.

"In Saskatchewan, our correctional officers are not armed. They do carry, at times, pepper spray and batons. In this case, it wouldn't be appropriate to reveal whether they had that or not."

Prince Albert police Sgt. Brandon Mudry said neither correctional officer was seriously injured, but both were "contaminated with bear mace."

Vermette was being held at the Prince Albert Provincial Correctional Centre. He was to appear in court Monday in the death of Troy Napope.

Napope was last seen in June 2015 and his burned car was later found in a patch of forest north of Prince Albert.

"Right now the police service considers Vermette to be armed and we caution people not to approach him," said Mudry.

Vermette has a history of run-ins with police in Prince Albert. He pleaded guilty in 2010 to assaulting a police officer and a correctional officer and was sentenced to seven months in jail.

Prince Albert police were working with RCMP in the search.

It's not the first time a prisoner has escaped custody while getting medical help.

An inmate escaped from a Saskatoon hospital in April 2013 by holding a razor blade to a guard's throat while he forced a second guard to take off the shackles. The guards were not hurt and police caught the inmate later that day.

In January, an inmate being escorted to a hospital in Peace River, Alta., escaped when an armed, masked man and a driver confronted guards. The prisoner drove away with the two men, but was caught a few days later.

Alberta correctional officers also do not carry firearms.

Wilby said an investigation is underway into how the Prince Albert ambush was planned. Inmate phone calls are recorded and will be reviewed. Other inmates could also be interviewed.

"We do believe it was premeditated for sure, but to what extent we're not clear at this point," he said.

— By Jennifer Graham in Regina

The Canadian Press

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