City Jail learns of mistaken inmate release a week later

January 12, 1991|By Roger Twigg

An inmate at the Baltimore City Jail was mistakenly released Jan. 4 and remained at large until Thursday, when jail officials were finally made aware that he was missing by a relative of the prisoner who called to inquire about him.

Baltimore police learned of the erroneous release of Johnnie Clark, 32, of the 1500 block of West Fairmount Avenue about 5:30 p.m., and he was taken into custody about two hours later. The police found him sitting at home.

Clark was the second City Jail inmate in recent weeks to walk away without authorization from a Baltimore courthouse while being guarded by jail officers. The other inmate had walked away from the Wabash Avenue courthouse after he was ordered held on bail. He was rearrested three days later.

Both incidents are under investigation by officials at the City Jail, where escapes, mistaken releases and other embarrassing occurances have become commonplace.

The police said that more than 120 inmates awaiting trial, serving short sentences or under home-monitoring programs were listed having escaped last year while in the custody of City Jail officials.

L. Tracey Brown, the City Hall aide who is the only city official permitted by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to discuss the jail with the news media, said she did not know how many of those inmates remained at large and could not find out.

"It's not available," Ms. Brown said.

While the police do not have statistics on the number of inmates to escape in previous years, veteran officers who attempt to find the fugitives said the number has increased substantially.

In the final weeks of 1990 and first days of 1991, for example, inmates escaped by sawing through bars, hiding in trash trucks and climbing down bedsheets. Last year also saw a murder in the jail and the theft of narcotics from the jail infirmary.

The most unusual incident occurred last April, when jail officials reported that a man being held on $2.5 million bail had escaped. After a three-day manhunt, he was found to have been in his cell all along.

In the case of two inmates who escaped just after Christmas by climbing into the rear of a trash truck, the police said they were not notified for five hours. Neither man has been located.

Ms. Brown said the jail policy is to make an immediate "unofficial" notification to police of a possible escape and then to "officially" inform them after a shakedown of the institution has been conducted.

Ms. Brown said that Clark, the latest inmate to be released mistakenly, was set free from the district courthouse at North and Harford avenues after a judge there gave him a suspended two-year sentence for narcotics violations.

Officials apparently failed to look at Clark's papers, which showed that he should have been returned to the City Jail on $15,000 bond to await trial on battery and deadly weapon charges.

"There was an error, so he didn't get transported back to the City Jail," Ms. Brown said.

Jail officials learned of the error when a relative of the inmate called Thursday to inquire about him.

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