Former inmate sues over 10-day delay in release

Suit against jail director, state alleges he was freed after his mother helped

April 27, 1999|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

When Donald Rocco was told he did not have to spend a day more in jail for his crime, he thought he was finally going home. He was wrong.

Rocco, 18, spent 10 days in the Baltimore City Detention Center after a judge had ordered him released in August because jail officials refused to free him, a lawsuit filed yesterday in Baltimore Circuit Court alleges.

The suit charges that Rocco was released after his mother complained twice and took paperwork from the courthouse proving that he was supposed to be free. The suit, which names the jail director and the state of Maryland as defendants, seeks $250,000 in damages.

"It was his mom who took the initiative to go down to the courthouse and get the papers," said David Walsh-Little, executive director of the Sowebo Center for Justice Inc., a nonprofit agency that provides legal aid for the poor. "If left to their own doing, I'm not sure when Donald would have gotten out.

"No one has the obligation to have their mother come down and check it out," Walsh-Little said.

Rocco pleaded guilty to assault Aug. 7, court records show. He received a suspended five-year sentence and was ordered set free. But he did not leave the jail until 10 days later, records show.

`Job of judicial branch'

LaMont W. Flanagan, state commissioner of the Division of Pretrial Detention and Services, acknowledged that other people have been held days after their release was ordered. But, he said, that's because of slow paperwork from the courthouse.

"We get hundreds of requests every day from inmates saying they are not supposed to be here," the jail director said yesterday. "We are not in charge of procuring release documents. That is the job of the judicial branch.

"The problem is that unless someone complains, we have no knowledge of what goes on in the courtroom," Flanagan said.

Release order

Flanagan refuted the lawsuit's charge that Rocco's mother, Christine Johnson, secured the paperwork that set her son free. He said the release order reached the jail Aug. 17, though it had been signed 10 days earlier.

"We would not accept any document from anybody but from the court," Flanagan said.

Pub Date: 4/27/99

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