Mix-up frees wrong prisoner Suspected drug dealer uses ruse to gain his release.

December 27, 1991|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Evening Sun Staff Joe Nawrozki contributed to this story.

Had new inmate-identification systems been implemented, an inmate would not have been able to escape from the Baltimore City Detention Center by signing another inmate's name, Maryland correction officials say.

LaMont W. Flanagan, commissioner of detention and pretrial services, said the systems would have caught Roland Lavar Campbell, 26, a suspected drug dealer who masqueraded as another inmate and was freed Christmas Day.

The new systems are set to be implemented over the next two months.

"If those two systems were on line, this would not have occurred," Flanagan said. "We would not have to rely on human judgment."

While waiting for the new systems to arrive, Flanagan said today inmates will face additional precautions to help jail employees better identify prisoners. The interim measures are:

* Color photographs will be taken of new inmates to more clearly identify them. Flanagan said the detention center in the past took black-and-white photos of incoming prisoners.

* A second supervisor will process an outgoing inmate instead of just one.

* Medical records will be checked against an inmate about to be discharged. "That will allow us to ask more personal, confidential questions to make sure the right inmate is leaving the institution," Flanagan said.

* The height of an inmate about to be discharged will be double-checked on a measuring tape.

Meanwhile, the FBI and U.S. Marshals Service have issued a warrant charging Campbell with being an escaped federal prisoner.

Campbell was scheduled to face trial sometime in March in U.S. District Court here.

A detention center clerk discovered the mix-up at 9:30 a.m. yesterday while comparing Campbell's signature on a sign-out form with the signature of the inmate scheduled for release, said Leonard A. Sipes Jr., a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

Campbell, a native Panamanian with a New York City address, was arrested Dec. 3 on charges of conspiracy to distribute a kilogram of cocaine to FBI undercover agents in Hyattsville, Prince George's County. He was transferred to the detention center Dec. 9, Sipes said.

Campbell, considered dangerous, is described as 5 feet 11 inches tall, 150 pounds with short-cropped black hair. When released, he was wearing a light blue jogging suit, Sipes said.

It was the second erroneous release from the detention center since the state took over operation of the former Baltimore City Jail in July. Flanagan blamed human error for both incidents.

After the first incident, the state began developing new systems that would prevent erroneous releases. But they won't be ready until early next year, Flanagan said.

The first is AFFIRM, or Automated Fingerprint File Identification Records Monitoring, a computerized fingerprint verification system. It electronically verifies inmates' identities when they place their fingers on a pad and shows guards the inmates' institutional status. AFFIRM is first being tested on employees.

The second system involves a hospital-like identification bracelet for each inmate. Flanagan said bracelets were issued earlier this year, but the devices were abandoned when officials discovered that they began corroding after two or three showers.

The state has since found a new supplier of water-resistant bracelets. The devices should arrive in February, Flanagan said.

Now, when inmates are released, they must answer a list of computerized screening questions and guards must match their faces to photographs on file.

A preliminary investigation revealed that Campbell and an inmate in an adjacent cell in the main jail building planned the switch, Sipes said.

The conspirator, whom Sipes would not identify, was jailed on drug charges and was scheduled to be released Christmas Day.

Sipes said the inmate gave Campbell personal information to help Campbell answer the screening questions.

Campbell's suspected accomplice has been placed in administrative segregation while jail officials decide whether to charge him.

"There's a strong indication they rehearsed the facts," Flanagan said.

Flanagan said disciplinary action may be taken against the correctional officers on duty at the time of the escape once an investigation has been completed. He could not explain why the unnamed inmate let Campbell assume his identity.

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