Less than 12 hours after the Acadia Parish Detention Center accidentally released inmate Jerry Hayes on June 28, 2010, he allegedly robbed a convenience store and attempted to force the clerk to drive him from the scene.
That same month, Livingston Parish inmate Joshua Kiger, who was being held on hate crimes, armed robbery and false imprisonment with a dangerous weapon, was released after his $350,000 bond was accidentally reduced to $25,000 by a deputy at the Livingston Parish Detention Center.
Those two cases are among the 24 accidental releases from parish prisons since January 2008 that The Advocate documented through public-records requests sent to [12?] parishes within the newspaper’s circulation area. These cases involved parish prisons in Acadia, Ascension, Iberia, Lafayette, Livingston, St. Landry, St. Mary, Tangipahoa and Vermilion parishes.
No accidental releases were reported in that time period from parish prisons in East Baton Rouge, West Baton Rouge or St. Martin parishes.
Many of the releases were the result of paperwork errors, computer entry problems or court mix-ups.
Rob Reardon, director of the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center, offers a succinct explanation: “We’re dealing with human beings. People make mistakes.”
Of the parishes reviewed for this story, Livingston Parish surpassed all others with at least 12 accidental releases since January 2008.
The most recent was on April 17, when inmate Lawrence Arnold, who was serving a 10-year sentence on a simple robbery conviction, was released because of a clerical error after he completed his sentence on a separate parole violation. Arnold was arrested the following week, according to records from the Sheriff’s Office.
Jim Brown, warden of the Livingston Parish Detention Center, said that while there are no acceptable number of errant releases, “considering that 20,795 inmates were processed during the two-year period reflects a very high absence of error.”
On Feb. 15, inmate Dawes Ratcliff was bonded out of the Livingston Parish Detention Center despite having an active hold in Tangipahoa Parish, where he was wanted on aggravated kidnapping and simple battery-domestic counts. The Livingston Parish deputy responsible for the release reported misplacing the relevant paperwork. He was given a warning, according to the employee disciplinary report.
Livingston Parish Detention Center officials responded to the September 2009 accidental release of inmate Dorvis Lee, who was being held on possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and aggravated assault with a firearm, by writing up the deputy and reassigning her for “multiple mistakes made in the release process,” according to the Warden’s Incident Report.
And when a Livingston Parish Sheriff’s corrections officer accidentally released inmate William Huber on Jan. 20, 2011, nine days before he was set to be released, a supervisor told the booking officer “that her actions were the equivalent of facilitating an escape,” according to the Warden’s Incident Report.
The deputy, whose name was redacted, or blacked out, from the incident report, said she remembered releasing the inmate but could not recall the specific reason why.
To prevent such occurrences, Brown wrote in an e-mail to The Advocate, when staffing and manpower permits, court documents are reviewed by at least two people to ensure the data is correctly entered into the Offender Management System, the software system used at the prison.
Unclear in Lafayette
The Lafayette Parish Correctional Center disclosed four accidental releases since 2008, although the Sheriff’s Office admitted the number could be higher because the data was not being tracked before The Advocate’s initial request for records in February.
Since the information had not been previously tracked, Director Rob Reardon said he was unable to retrieve the data requested through the department’s Automated Record Management and Mapping System. The only way to find the information, he said, would be to sift through about 60,000 records representing all the bookings and releases since 2008.
“We’re evaluating all of our processes continually,” Reardon said. “From an assessment process, we have to know whether this is an issue. I don’t think it is, personally, but we’ll have better information going forward.”
The most recent accidental release from the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center occurred May 24, when inmate Jenny Marie Baker, who was being held on two misdemeanor counts, was ordered released in a faxed document sent by Lafayette City Court.
Several hours later, that order was changed after court officials discovered that Baker had other outstanding obligations, City Court Judge Douglas Saloom said July 18.
Baker had already been released by the time the information was hand-delivered to the jail, Reardon said.
In the remaining three accidental releases, the staff members involved received disciplinary action, according to personnel records.
In July 2010 in Lafayette Parish, inmate Jonathan Seaux, who had been arrested on a number of counts, including burglary, was released from the prison on a single misdemeanor summons after an intake clerk failed to log all of Seaux’s counts into a computer.
The clerk — identified in personnel records as Douglas Mistich — received a three-day suspension.
Clerks Latasha Jackson and Lillian Williams and supervisor Cathy Blanchard were disciplined in February 2009 for unsatisfactory performance for the improper release of inmate Tiffany Kunak one month earlier, according to personnel records.
Kunak, who was being held on failure to appear for a revocation hearing, was released when two clerks misread a memo faxed from 15th Judicial District Judge Marilyn Castle, according to the incident report.
Castle’s memo stated the court “will not” recall its warrant at this time, but the clerks misinterpreted it and entered the memo as “warrant recalled.”
Blanchard signed off on the entry after reviewing the inmate’s folder, records show.
DOC notices the problem
In October 2009, the state Department of Public Safety and Corrections issued a statewide memo to all sheriffs and jail administrators about the problem of accidental releases.
The memo notes a spike in inmates being inadvertently released by local deputies after inmates made court appearances.
“It appears that the breakdown is somewhere between the local facilities’ records department, transporting deputies and the courts,” wrote Jeffery E. Travis, chief of operations for the state agency.
Angela Whitaker, a DOC spokeswoman, said the reasons for the releases are not always clear-cut.
Occasionally, inmates are released while their paperwork is still being processed by the state. Other times, a court may release the inmate from the courthouse only for DOC to later discover the inmate still owes jail time, Whitaker said.
In those instances when an accidental release of a state prisoner does occur, parish officials are required to notify DOC, Whitaker said.
“When such a release occurs, this Department works closely with local law enforcement and Probation and Parole to remand the offender back to custody as quickly as possible,” Whitaker said. “If immediate contact cannot be made, we get a warrant to take (the inmate) into custody and enter their information into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) system.”
Addressing the problem
In Acadia Parish, the accidental release of inmate Jerry Hayes in June 2010 prompted the Sheriff’s Office to adopt a four-point check system requiring deputies to check NCIC, contact the District Attorney’s Office for outstanding warrants, conduct an in-house check for warrants, and check the inmate’s personal folder before releasing an inmate, said Maxine Trahan, spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Office.
Hayes, 26, was booked into the Acadia Parish Jail on Dec. 23, 2009, on a parole revocation for a first-degree robbery conviction. On the date of his scheduled release, a deputy failed to check if Hayes had any open charges and holds for other agencies. In fact, Lafayette Parish had placed a hold on Hayes, Trahan said.
A little more than 10 hours after his release, Hayes was arrested by Lafayette police on counts of first-degree robbery of a convenience store and attempted second-degree kidnapping of the 60-year-old clerk committed after his release from Acadia Parish.
In St. Landry Parish, the Sept. 21, 2010, accidental release of inmate Wilfred Stelly, who was serving time for failing to register as a sex offender, prompted Sheriff Bobby Guidroz to review departmental policies.
The proposed fix there was to make sure that supervisors were reviewing the necessary paperwork before an inmate’s release.
“Could it happen again? Sure, if we have careless employees who are not on top of their game,” Guidroz said. “For their sake, though, it better not happen again.”