Officer suspended after mistaken release

Central Booking says man wasn't in jail custody

March 29, 2002|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore police officer has been suspended with pay after the erroneous release of a man from Central Booking and Intake Center on Monday night, police officials confirmed yesterday.

While Officer Kevin Ruth, 34, was relegated to communications duty, the Police Department has not said it is fully to blame.

Lamont W. Flanagan, commissioner of pretrial detention and services, denied responsibility. He said the man - still at large last night - was never in jail custody Monday.

Jerome Briggs, 40, is wanted for failing to appear in court in November and faces 55 years in prison on drug-related charges. He was brought to Central Booking and Intake Center by a bounty hunter working for a Park Heights bail bond business and delivered into Ruth's custody at 4 p.m. Monday, Flanagan said.

Ruth, a 12-year veteran on the police force, is one of seven police liaisons whose jobs entail booking people at the intake center, said police spokeswoman Ragina C. Averella.

The bounty hunter, who asked not to be named, caught him without incident Monday afternoon near Pennsylvania and North avenues, he said.

However, after the bounty hunter turned over Briggs to Ruth, Briggs was not admitted because he complained of chest pain. Central Booking policy states that inmates who need medical attention must be treated before being booked, Flanagan said.

"He was refused entry to the booking center because of the fact that he had an apparent medical problem," Flanagan said. "Directions were given to send the defendant to the hospital. We placed the defendant in one of our holding cells as a courtesy to the Police Department and as a security measure until he could be transported to a medical facility."

The bounty hunter said he was called shortly after he left Central Booking and told to call the facility. When he called, he was told Briggs needed to be taken to a hospital.

The bounty hunter said he told Ruth he was busy on other cases and could not return to the facility until between 8:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. He said he was told that Briggs would not be released before he could arrive.

However, by 6:10 p.m., Briggs had been released, according to documents supplied by Flanagan, who acknowledges that one of his lieutenants escorted Ruth and Briggs to the facility's Eager Street entrance.

"The police officer asked for an escort ... because he would have trouble escorting a defendant through our facility without the proper release documents," Flanagan said.

Flanagan said an internal investigation of actions taken by his staff in this incident resulted in "no charges or discipline."

The bounty hunter, who never made it back to Central Booking on Monday after learning during a call from his car that Briggs had been released, also accepts no blame for what happened.

"It's not embarrassing to me," the bounty hunter said yesterday. "I caught him. He didn't get away from me."

It was not clear whether the bail bondsman who guaranteed the $75,000 bond for Briggs has lost his money. Efforts to reach the bondsman were unsuccessful.

The incident is similar to one that occurred Feb. 26 when John Edward Gregory, 21, of the 1600 block of Eutaw Place was mistakenly freed from court, despite being indicted on a first-degree murder charge.

Gregory was captured within 24 hours.

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