Roland L. Campbell got one of the best Christmas gifts an imprisoned man could receive -- an undeserved early release.
Campbell, who was being held at the Baltimore City Detention Center on federal drug charges, masqueraded as another inmate and convinced jail officials to release him Christmas afternoon.
He is considered armed and dangerous, and may have fled to his home in New York City, said Scott A. Sewell, the U.S. marshal for Maryland.
Jail officials discovered Campbell's erroneous release at 10 a.m. yesterday when a records clerk compared his signature on the release form with signatures on other forms, according to Leonard A. Sipes Jr., public information officer for the state Division of Detention and Pre-Trial Services.
"Preliminary investigation indicates there was a conspiracy between him and another inmate," said Mr. Sipes, adding that the investigation was continuing.
LaMont W. Flanagan, the division's commissioner, interrupted his vacation and returned to Baltimore yesterday afternoon.
Mr. Flanagan, clearly unhappy about the release and the negative publicity, placed part of the blame on technical glitches that are holding up implementation of the jail's new inmate-identification system.
"Until we have these mechanisms in place, we will just have to strive to keep ahead of the inmates, who are getting smarter in trying to devise ways of escaping incarceration," he said.
The erroneous release is the second to have occurred at the facility since July 1, when the state took over a Baltimore City Jail that had been plagued by escapes and mistaken releases.
The first release took place July 4, three days after the state takeover, when jail officials mistakenly freed Furman Brown, 46. He was captured the next day when he returned to the jail to ask about some money he thought he'd left behind.
Campbell, 26, was apparently released after switching identities with another inmate, Corey Ford, and successfully passing a 10-question screening test that involves personal information such as a Social Security number or a mother's maiden name, officials said.
He had been awaiting trial in U.S. District Court for allegedly selling a kilogram of cocaine to federal and local undercover officers in a "buy and burn" drug investigation in Prince George's County on Dec. 3.
When he was arrested, Campbell wore a bulletproof vest and carried a .40-caliber semiautomatic pistol, according to Andrew Manning, a spokesman for the FBI office in Baltimore.
Campbell's bail was set at $750,000, a federal grand jury indicted him Dec. 11, and he was scheduled to be tried in March.
In 1986, Campbell was convicted of second-degree murder in New York and given a prison sentence of 30 years to life. He served nearly four years and was paroled in December 1990.
Commissioner Flanagan said Campbell would have had difficulty deceiving correctional officers if the state had all the elements of its four-step inmate verification process in place. At present, he said, the state relies on a system that requires a supervisor releasing an inmate to go through two steps: comparing the inmate to a photograph and engaging in the 10-question screening.
"The warden told me that these two inmates [Campbell and Mr. Ford] were in the same housing area and in adjacent cells," Mr. Flanagan said. "They obviously rehearsed the information for the screening process."
One prison official said Campbell's ruse should have been discovered because Ford, the man he was impersonating, is much taller and heavier.
"The release took place at about 2:15 p.m. and the captain's shift was going to end at 3 p.m.," said the official, who asked not to be identified. "[The captain] obviously wanted to get home for Christmas and did not take the time to check everything out."
Mr. Flanagan said corrections officials and the state police are investigating the release but do not believe there was any collusion between the correctional officer and Campbell. After the investigation is completed, Mr. Flanagan said, the Detention Center will conduct its own review and decide whether disciplinary measures are warranted.
Had the state's complete verification system been in place, Mr. Flanagan said, the inmate would have been caught. But technical problems have prevented the state from using ID wristbands for each inmate and a computerized fingerprinting and identification system, known as AFFIRM.
The state has purchased identification wristbands that once removed cannot be put back on by inmates. However, prison officials said, the bracelets are defective: A metal fastener in the wristband corrodes after exposure to several showers.
The state has revoked the wristband contract and yesterday asked for new bids, Mr. Flanagan said. By the beginning of February, a new vendor should be supplying wristbands for all the approximately 2,800 jail inmates. Had Campbell worn such a bracelet, Mr. Flanagan said, it would have been impossible for him to claim another inmate's identity.
AFFIRM, troubled by technical glitches, has not been put into use. This system relies on a computer to match the fingerprint of an inmate standing in the release area with a fingerprint on file.
Problems with phone lines and data processing have delayed its implementation until the middle of January, Mr. Flanagan said.