Orleans Parish Prison officials last week mistakenly released a habitual offender who only days earlier had been sentenced to four years in state prison, but the inmate returned to the lockup voluntarily a day later after the oversight came to light, authorities confirmed Monday.
The inmate, Anthony Martin, 53, had been sentenced Wednesday to 55 months at hard labor for possession of cocaine, court documents show. But instead of being transferred to state custody, Martin was allowed to walk free Friday due to a clerical error.
Philip Stelly, a spokesman for Sheriff Marlin Gusman, said Martin’s sentence was entered into the jail’s system along with three dismissed charges. “A processing clerk only saw the dismissed charges and processed Martin for release,” Stelly said. “We discovered the error when we began working up our DOC (Department of Corrections) cases.”
It was not clear how long it took jail officials to notice the oversight, and the public was not made aware of Martin’s fugitive status. The inmate apparently did not go far, and he agreed to return to custody after officials contacted him. Jail records show he was rebooked about 3 p.m. Saturday.
Stelly could not say late Monday whether Martin’s release prompted disciplinary action against any jail personnel.
“We regret the error,” he said.
Martin’s attorney, John H. Thomas, did not return messages seeking comment.
Pam Laborde, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections, said she does not believe the department was notified of Martin’s release but added, “That is not necessarily unusual if he was just sentenced last week.”
“It may take a couple of weeks to get new conviction information into the system (either in the computer or through intake at EHCC),” she said in an email, referring to Elayn Hunt Correctional Center.
Martin has prior convictions for possession of cocaine, forgery, purse snatching and simple robbery, Laborde said.
Court documents show prosecutors filed a multiple-offender bill against him in his most recent case and that Criminal District Court Judge Franz Zibilich ordered he be placed in a drug rehabilitation program.
Martin’s release was reminiscent of a December incident in which another inmate, Dwayne Jefferson, was mistakenly released from jail due to a clerical error after appearing in court on a charge of possession with intent to distribute marijuana.
In that case, a court order had been issued for Jefferson’s release after an October arrest, but the release document was instead applied to his Dec. 8 arrest. He remained free for more than a month but was taken into custody within two hours after officials discovered the mistake.
Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, a nonprofit watchdog group, said accidental releases such as Martin’s happen on a daily basis at lockups around the country and that no law requires the authorities to notify the public about a prisoner on the loose.
Asked whether the Sheriff’s Office should have announced Martin’s release out of concern for public safety, he said it would depend on when jail officials realized their mistake and the extent of the leads they had to take him back into custody.
The case also was not referred to the U.S. Marshals Service, which specializes in tracking down fugitives, a possible reflection of how easily the Sheriff’s Office was able to get in touch with Martin and put him back behind bars.
“The public can live with a mistake and human error,” Goyeneche said, “but the most important thing is locating someone who is inappropriately released from custody.”
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