Police say the 19-year-old was arrested on a marijuana-sale charge in Union Square, in the East Village.
It's not clear how he managed to get out of the police van and whether other prisoners were in it.
He escaped around 7 p.m. in the West Village, on his way to being booked.
He then fled into a nearby subway station on Christopher Street.
Police caught up with him about an hour later in the Gramercy neighborhood. Officers got hold of him near Lexington Avenue and East 21st Street.
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