Alleged criminals released from jail due to paperwork mishaps

Jeffrey Bryant, 22, was charged with an assault while he was on the loose

September 14, 2013|By Carrie Wells and Ian Duncan, The Baltimore Sun

Jeffrey Bryant should have been in a Baltimore jail on the night he came to the door of Ronald Reives' apartment. Instead, police say, Bryant and two other men attacked Reives — one of them stabbing him in the back and puncturing his lung.

Because of a mistake at the Baltimore Central Booking and Intake Facility, Bryant had been released a week before the stabbing.

"It's really surprising to me," Reives, 28, said Friday after being told that Bryant, an old neighborhood acquaintance, was supposed to have been in custody.

Bryant was one of four people mistakenly set free from the Baltimore booking facility and jail this summer — a total that exceeds the count from recent years and has the state corrections department scrambling to defend its record at one of the nation's busiest detention complexes.

Among those released since June were a Pennsylvania man charged with fatally stabbing a homeless person and a woman accused of killing her grandson with methadone. All detainees were returned to custody.

Corrections officials say the problems are isolated and in most of the cases are due to human error in a department at the jail that handles warrants. After each mistake, disciplinary action has been taken against the staff involved and training has been stepped up, according to Wendell M. "Pete" France, who oversees state correctional facilities in the city and Baltimore County.

But the union that represents jail officers warns that ineffective training and an inefficient system that blends paper and electronic records could lead to more problems.

"These guys are being released and some of them have serious charges, and all it's going to take is for someone to go home and hurt somebody," said Cory Trusty, the president of the union that represents officers at the Detention Center. "The public is definitely in danger."

Bryant, 22, was charged with first-degree assault in connection with the Aug. 23 incident at Perkins Homes in East Baltimore and arrested Sept. 3. He is being held without bond in the city jail, according to state records. Another man who was on the scene is suspected to be the person who stabbed Reives.

At the time of Bryant's mistaken release, he was being held because police said he failed to appear for a court date on a drug charge. No attorney was listed in court documents.

The booking facility is part of the same state complex as the Baltimore City Detention Center, which has come under scrutiny by state lawmakers. A federal indictment alleged that members of the Black Guerrilla Family gang and corrections officers were involved in a smuggling ring and other corruption at the state-run jail. The General Assembly formed a special commission to examine the facility, and co-chairman Del. Guy J. Guzzone said the mistaken releases will likely become part of its work.

"It's very troubling," said Guzzone, a Howard County Democrat. "The purpose of the system is justice and if somehow people are evading justice by mistakes being made, that clearly is a serious problem."

The downtown Baltimore jail is among the largest detention facilities in the country, and corrections department officials say they have few problems, given the number of people they process — Central Booking handles about 60,000 arrests and 40,000 releases annually.

The process of booking inmates into the jail or authorizing them for release is a long and tortuous one. It can take as long as 24 hours for paperwork to travel around the jail's second floor and reach the various officials who enter records into an electronic management system, according to Trusty.

The reasons for the mistaken releases have varied. Some detainees' warrant information never made it into the jail's tracking system; in another case, a warrant was incorrectly entered. And in another release, prosecutors — not corrections officials — inadvertently dropped a set of charges.

France said the recent spate of releases "may sound very problematic for us, but we put it in context of the amount of work they do. Unfortunately, things happen. But staff does a good job."

France narrowed down problems in most of the cases to the jail's warrant office, where information from other parts of the state and country is faxed in and processed by about 30 employees. In at least one case, staff members in that office were taking "shortcuts," he said.

Bryant and Cornelius Hayes were mistakenly released within 24 hours of one another, France said, both men because warrant information had not been filed in the system. Hayes was wanted in Baltimore County on theft and assault charges.

Two officers responsible for the Bryant and Hayes mistakes were disciplined and retrained, France said.

The system is supposed to include a number of checks, according to union officials.

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