State blames mix-up for man's year spent in jail without trial As many as 6 more may be in same fix

August 14, 1991|By Ann LoLordo and Brian Sullam Reporter M. Dion Thompson of The Sun's metropolitan staff contributed to this article.

State corrections officials yesterday blamed a mix-up in paperwork for the series of missteps that kept a 54-year-old man in the Baltimore city jail for over a year awaiting trial.

But as judges in Baltimore City and Anne Arundel County sought to clear the way for the release of Martin R. Henn from jail this morning, state officials said there may be as many as six other inmates in similar straits at the jail.

Mr. Henn, a homeless alcoholic who was sent to the jail July 16, 1990, after his arrest on charges of arson and malicious destruction of property, missed his scheduled day in court a month later because jail officials mistakenly believed he had already been released, according to LaMont Flanagan, the state public safety official who has been in charge of the jail since the state took it over from the city July 1.

"The Baltimore city jail records office treated Martin Henn as a court release, meaning that all charges had been disposed," Mr. Flanagan said. "They thought the court released him, that he was gone."

But it appears that the jail may not be entirely to blame for what Baltimore Circuit Judge Ellen M. Heller called Mr. Henn's "nightmare."

Mr. Flanagan gave the following account of what his staff has so far been able to discover about Mr. Henn's plight:

Things apparently began to go wrong for Mr. Henn on Aug. 2, 1990, when he was taken from the city jail and brought to District Court to stand trial on a previous misdemeanor charge unrelated to the arson and destruction counts. The misdemeanor and the malicious destruction charges were disposed of and he was returned to the jail to await trial on the more serious arson charge.

But the court paperwork either did not reflect the pending arson charge or it was misread by someone at the jail. Whatever the case, jail officials believed that all charges against Mr. Henn had been dealt with and he had been released by the court. In fact, he was sitting in one of their cells.

Records indicate that jail officials discovered Mr. Henn was in the jail on Aug. 30. But it wasn't until Oct. 5 that they wrote to the Baltimore's State's Attorney's Office to ask prosecutors to review the arson charge. They never got a reply.

As far as Mr. Flanagan can determine, nothing else happened for more than nine months, until the state took over operation of the jail from the city and, on July 11, 1991, began reviewing the cases of inmates at the jail.

Mr. Flanagan said Mr. Henn's name came up in a review of inmates who did not have scheduled trial dates or had been in the jail for more than 90 or 120 days -- the time it normally takes to schedule a case for trial.

He said that if that review had not been made, "this man would remain an anonymous figure in the Baltimore city jail."

Since the review began, Mr. Flanagan said his staff has found "possibly six other cases" similar to Mr. Henn's. But it was not clear yesterday whether they, too, were victims of sloppy record-keeping. Mr. Flanagan refused to discuss further the cases of the six other inmates.

"We are researching their cases expeditiously and, in cooperation with the judiciary, we will dispose of them with all deliberate speed," Mr. Flanagan said.

The cases have come to light since the transfer of the city jail to the state, which has renamed it the Baltimore City Detention Center.

A spokesman for Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, whose administration was in charge of the jail during the time Mr. Henn was awaiting trial, said yesterday that Mr. Schmoke was not interested in assessing blame for Mr. Henn's plight, or in determining how his case slipped through the cracks.

"Yes, in an overcrowded facility and a deteriorating building and all its problems, yes, we made a mistake," said Clinton R. Coleman, the mayor's press secretary. "The issue is not whom to blame. [Mr. Schmoke] is not looking to point the finger. It's not our facility anymore."

Barbara A. Bostick, who was Mayor Schmoke's city jail commissioner until the state takeover, had even less to say. "I have no comment. I have no comment. . . . I have to go now. 'Bye," she said.

The Schmoke administration has long been aware of the problems with record-keeping at the jail. In the spring of 1990, a correctional consultant brought in at the jail's request to review the records operation warned Ms. Bostick of the consequences of failing to properly keep track of an inmate or his sentence.

"If an inmate is unlawfully held beyond a release date, an expensive lawsuit can follow, not to mention the embarrassment to BCJ [Baltimore City Jail] and the injustice of requiring a person to serve longer than necessary in jail," consultant Don Anderson wrote in his June 1990 report.

"Their record-keeping is shoddy at best," said Frank Dunbaugh, an attorney representing jail inmates in a continuing 15-year-old federal class-action suit against the jail administration. "I have a sense that this is happening more than people are aware."

There have been other cases of inmates being held longer than they should have been. Since 1987, at least five jail inmates have been held from 10 days to three months beyond the expiration of their sentences.

Mr. Henn is expected to be released from jail this morning. Judge Heller, who has presided over his case since he was discovered languishing in jail, said last night that a public intoxication charge against Mr. Henn in Anne Arundel County was put on the inactive docket.

"I can assure you that Mr. Henn will be released," Judge Heller said last night.

However, Mr. Flanagan said that records show that Mr. Henn still faces another potential legal problem, an outstanding warrant against him for violating probation in 1986.

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