Police reviewing release of prisoner

Man wrongly freed after bounty hunter brought him to city jail

Offender remains at large

March 28, 2002|By Johnathon E. Briggs | Johnathon E. Briggs,SUN STAFF

The wrongful release of a prisoner brought to Baltimore's Central Booking and Intake Center by a bounty hunter is the subject of an internal investigation by city police, a department spokeswoman said last night.

Jerome Briggs, 40, a drug offender, was wanted for failing to appear in court in November, and was caught Monday afternoon by a bounty hunter working for a bail bond business, the city's jail commissioner confirmed yesterday.

Briggs, of the 500 block of Denison St., was to begin serving a 55-year sentence. But a city police officer handling intake duties at the jail set him free instead of seeking medical attention for the prisoner, who was complaining of chest pain, said Lamont W. Flanagan, commissioner of pretrial detention and services.

"In the interest of public safety, all of us in the criminal justice system must ensure that mishaps of this nature do not occur," Flanagan said.

Briggs - who remained at large last night - had been caught near Pennsylvania and North avenues by a bounty hunter working for In & Out Bail Bonds on Park Heights Avenue, who had captured him once before for failing to repay a bond. He took Briggs to Central Booking and turned him over to a police officer.

The bounty hunter, who asked not to be named because of the nature of his work, said last night that he received word through the bondsman about 10 minutes after turning in Briggs that the officer was complaining about Briggs suffering from "drug withdrawals and other complications" and wanting him to come back and take the prisoner to a hospital.

The bounty hunter said he called the officer and was told that Briggs could not be admitted to the jail before getting treatment and having hospital discharge papers.

"I asked, `Are you saying that if I don't come back, you are going to release him?'" the bounty hunter said, and recalled the officer replying, "No, I'm not saying that."

The bounty hunter said he agreed to go back to Central Booking at 8:30 p.m. but was involved in personal business and did not arrive until after 11 p.m., and found another police officer on duty there - who didn't know about Briggs.

Instructed to call Central Booking's customer service number, the bounty hunter said he made the inquiry and was told that Briggs was not in jail - not even admitted.

The bounty hunter said he figured that Briggs must have been sent directly to state prison custody, because he was sentenced to prison. But when he called the jail Tuesday, he said, a sergeant said he would look into the incident.

He said he called again yesterday, and the sergeant informed him, "Your [police] officer let him go."

Flanagan said that it is Central Booking's policy not to admit offenders with apparent injuries or health problems - but that Briggs, who was supposed to be going to prison, should not have been released. "We told police, `Let's get him to the hospital,' but the officer called the bondsmen to come get him," said Flanagan.

When the bondsmen didn't show up, Flanagan said, "the police officer then took the inmate outside and let him go."

"It is extremely important that criminal justice agencies maintain the highest level of cooperation and communication due to the fact that we all have similar missions and goals, and that is to protect the public at all costs," he said.

A police spokeswoman, Ragina C. Averella, said she did not know details of the incident but said the matter is the subject of an internal review.

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