Colleagues of Timothy Schloemer were shocked when they went to pick up the drunken-driving suspect this week from Central Booking after posting his bail — and were told he had been dead for more than two days.
Corrections officials blamed the communication failure over the apparent suicide on a confluence of events — they say Schloemer didn't give accurate next-of-kin contact information when he was booked, the hospital didn't notify them of his death, and the bail and intake records systems don't always marry up.
But a spokesman for the corrections department said the system is not broken.
Schloemer's mother, speaking Thursday over the telephone from Wisconsin, disagreed. "The right hand does not communicate with the left hand," Suzanne Schloemer said. "People should not be put through this type of pain."
The 50-year-old Texas man, a ship master's mate, was in Maryland for training last week when a job came open on a vessel leaving from Beaumont, Texas, his mother said.
He was to fly last Friday from Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport to Madison, Wis., to pick up supplies and then head to Texas.
But Schloemer missed his flight, and his family was unable to reach him. They did not know that he had been pulled over in downtown Baltimore and arrested for drunken driving after his rental car got stuck on light rail tracks and he failed a field sobriety test, according to Maryland Transit Administration police. He was taken to Central Booking and held in lieu of bond.
Early Saturday morning, Schloemer was found unresponsive in his cell, corrections officials said.
A spokesman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services said the address Schloemer supplied when he was arrested turned out to be a strip mall in San Antonio, and family contact information wasn't accurate. Spokesman Rick Binetti said corrections officials coordinated with Texas authorities in an attempt to track down family but had no success.
By Sunday, Suzanne Schloemer said, she was panicked. She contacted police about making a missing-persons report and was told to file it with authorities in Wisconsin. But an officer here suggested she check the online Maryland court records to see if he had been arrested, she said.
After learning of the drunken-driving stop, she said, she made several more calls but was not able to reach anyone who would help her get information.
On Monday, she called his union, the Marine Engineers' Beneficial Association, and asked for help getting him out on bond. Joe Geldhof, the chief of staff for MEBA, said the union began coordinating a new flight for Schloemer so he could catch the ship, and sent a representative to post $500 cash bond.
Geldhof said he was getting ready to go to a hockey game about 6:30 p.m. Monday when his cellphone rang. On the other end was the representative who had traveled to Central Booking to pick up Schloemer.
"'Tim's dead,'" he said the official told him. "I said, 'Wait, we just posted bond for him.' "
Geldhof said that set off a "mind-numbing" series of fruitless efforts to find out what had happened. He said state corrections officials were not helpful, and "there was an inference that we were supposed to call the parents."
"That put us in a dilemma, because we really didn't have any information except that it's increasingly obvious that he was dead when they took the bond money," Geldhof said.
Binetti, the corrections spokesman, said that it was fortunate that the union had been in touch with Schloemer's family because officials had exhausted their efforts to find his relatives.
Binetti said court commissioners review a detainee's charges and bail status but don't have access to the intake records system. In the vast majority of cases, he said, that doesn't matter.
Angelita Plemmer, a spokeswoman for the state court system, said court commissioners do have access to such information. She could not immediately explain what happened in the case of Schloemer's bail.
"The information that is entered by public safety is available to commissioners in real time," she said. "If the commissioner didn't know, it's because they weren't given the information."
Also potentially complicating efforts, Binetti said, was that Central Booking hadn't received a "body receipt" from Johns Hopkins Hospital, where Schloemer was pronounced dead Saturday.
Still, he said, "the system worked exactly the way it's supposed to."
"Given the fact that roughly 60,000 arrestees are processed a year, we do things pretty efficiently on both sides," Binetti said.
Officials say Schloemer was alone in his cell at the time of his death and rounds had been made to check on him and others. Suzanne Schloemer said corrections officials wouldn't speak to her about the circumstances surrounding his death, but the medical examiner told her that he had strangled himself with part of his facility-issue jumpsuit.
Mark Vernarelli, another spokesman for the corrections system, said that the agency has cut down on suicides throughout the system since 2007 through a series of reforms, "but as tragic as it is, it's not completely out of the question for a man in his cell alone to commit suicide."
Geldhof said Thursday that the commissioner had yet to refund the $500 bail but that that "pales in comparison to the grief of the family."
"It would've been a lot better off for everybody if we just had an adult come out and say, 'This individual is dead,' and we could've proceeded from there," he said. "There's multiple agencies involved, but they apparently don't communicate very well with each other."
While Suzanne Schloemer has questions about how Central Booking officers monitor employees, she said her son was in a "dark place" and doesn't blame them for his suicide. She said he took medications and felt good when he was taking them.
"This was his own doing," she said. "He missed his flight. He was so looking forward to this, and you can understand that he was in such deep despair" after being arrested.
"All we want is for those people to take credit for allowing something like this to happen, and not to let it happen again."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun