Before inmates are released from the jail, a lieutenant is supposed to check the file to make sure no other jurisdiction is interested in them. Archer Blackwell, another union official, said those lieutenants preside over a crowded bullpen of detainees, all eager to be released as quickly as possible.
"It's very easy to overlook something in the rush to let them out," Blackwell said.
Del. John W.E. Cluster Jr., a Baltimore County Republican and a member of the corrections commission, said the mistakes raise questions about whether the checks are effective. He suggested the Department of Legislative Services could audit the process to find out.
"This is definitely a deficiency," Cluster said.
France also blamed the warrant office for the release of Dale Wakefield, who was arrested in Baltimore on charges that he had stabbed a homeless man in Bucks County, Pa., and violated probation. The homeless man died of his wounds the day after Wakefield's arrest.
In Wakefield's case, following what Baltimore police Lt. J. Eric Kowalczyk said is a standard practice, a detective went before a judge and asked her to dismiss the less serious probation warrant — a service the Police Department provides as a convenience to the jail.
The murder charges remained in place, but Wakefield was set free anyway. He called his mother, and she alerted detectives in Pennsylvania. Wakefield was re-arrested without further incident, but the Bucks County District Attorney's office lashed out in public at what officials there saw as the incompetence of Baltimore's jail managers.
Michelle A. Henry, the first assistant district attorney in Bucks County, said in July that her office thought Wakefield would continue to be held.
"We're very frustrated," she said. "The reality is that Baltimore homicide detectives — who did a great job — had to track this guy down and find him twice. Once is hard enough."
France said information to organize Wakefield's extradition from Bucks County had come in but was improperly entered when staff used the wrong case number to file the document. He characterized that mistaken release as "a series of mishaps," saying that staff should have looked more closely at the case they were handling.
"They didn't do their job, they didn't read the warrant, and they didn't match the case number," France said. Two supervisors were suspended without pay over the incident, he said. Wakefield's attorney did not respond to a request for comment.
The next month, a different kind of mistake led to a murder suspect being set free — despite her protests.
Towanda Reaves, a 50-year-old grandmother, was being held without bond on murder charges after she allegedly rubbed methadone on the gums of her grandson, who later died. Awaiting her next court date, Reaves was told she was free to go. She told officials there must be some mistake, according to her attorney.
"They said, 'That's what we have,' and released her," said Marc Minkove, the attorney.
A Baltimore grand jury had in fact indicted Reaves, a standard procedure that should have meant her case was simply forwarded to the Circuit Court. Instead, because of an error by a prosecutor, the charges were displayed to jail officials as having been dropped, according to the state's attorney's office.
Minkove said Reaves contacted him after being released. Arrangements were made for Reaves to turn herself in. For that responsible act, he argued later, Reaves deserved to be given the chance to post bail.
A judge disagreed, and Reaves is back under lock and key at the detention center.