An investigation into why a man serving 40 years on a manslaughter charge was inexplicably released from state custody in September revealed where the paper trail disappeared.
Benjuiel Johnson, a 32-year-old convicted of manslaughter in 2013, was accidentally released by the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections only a few years into his 40-year sentence and traveled to the Atlanta area before officials were able to take him back into custody.
DOC’s investigation found Johnson was released because the Dixon Correctional Institute, where he was being held at the time, did not receive his full criminal records. In addition, a DCI employee failed to pull Johnson’s State Police rap sheet before he was released, a standard procedure that would have revealed his criminal history, according to DOC’s final report.
Johnson was mistakenly released from state custody on Sept. 22 after serving time for possession of weapons and stolen gun charges that were unrelated to his murder conviction. Several days after Johnson bonded out of jail Sept. 26 on an assault charge, residents in Iberville Parish saw him and called the Iberville Parish Sheriff’s Office, alerting DOC he had been released before serving his sentence for fatally shooting Cordies Gales, 31, in 2010.
Investigators could not find evidence that paperwork on Johnson’s manslaughter conviction got from the Iberville Parish Sheriff’s Office to the Avoyelles Parish Sheriff’s Office whenever Johnson was transported, the DOC report says. The only clue was an order for him to appear at trial in February 2013 at the Iberville Parish Courthouse.
Johnson was later transported from Avoyelles Parish to Dixon Correctional Institute in East Feliciana Parish in February 2014, and detectives found no documentation at DCI or at DOC headquarters of his manslaughter conviction.
The report also says Johnson would not have been allowed out of prison if the DCI employee in charge of processing the discharge had followed procedures that require employees review inmates’ State Police rap sheet before clearing them for release.
The report says the DCI employee had failed to pull the rap sheet.
“There were a bunch of steps that could have happened that didn’t,” DOC spokeswoman Pam Laborde said.
As a result, DOC released Johnson when he finished his time on other charges, not realizing he had a long sentence ahead of him after pleading guilty to manslaughter and attempted possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
U.S. marshals arrested Johnson shortly after midnight Oct. 2 at a Motel 6 in Norcross, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta, where authorities believe Johnson was trying to meet an acquaintance.
The DCI employee in question received a 4 percent pay cut equal to two week’s suspension without pay, the report says.
DOC also put a new procedure in place for submitting paperwork for inmates convicted while they are already in custody, and DCI employees will follow a checklist form to ensure records are thoroughly reviewed, the report says.
Follow Danielle Maddox Kinchen on Twitter, @Dani_Maddox4.