When city police detectives raided homes and cars affiliated with the suspected "Jigga" drug organization, they hoped to remove from the streets leaders of what they called a large-scale heroin distribution ring in Baltimore.
One of those men, however, walked free early the next day on bail mistakenly set at $10,000, instead of the $100,000 the District Court commissioner intended.
The commissioner had initially set Nathan Parker's bail at the lower amount and then changed her mind. But the handwritten paperwork overwriting the earlier decision didn't make it into the jail's computer system in time, said Jimmie Foxworth, the top District Court commissioner in Baltimore City.
U.S. marshals and city police are now searching for Parker, 28, of the 2600 block of Dulany St., after U.S. Magistrate Judge James K. Bredar issued a warrant for his arrest Thursday, according to Marcia Murphy, a spokeswoman for the Maryland U.S. attorney's office.
The case is the second in recent weeks to highlight the perils of delivering suspects' release and detention instructions on paper. The court's and jail's computer systems aren't compatible. Last month, corrections officials discovered they had mistakenly released an attempted murderer the day after he was convicted.
In the Parker case, Foxworth said the commissioner followed the proper procedure to "manually" increase the bail, but jail officials had not processed the paperwork as of Thursday.
"I can't say commissioners change their mind often, but it does occur, especially with the volume we have in Baltimore City," Foxworth said. "Commissioners have to make split decisions real quick. Sometimes more information is received after a hearing that prompts them to change their minds."
Foxworth said the leaders of the suspected drug organization came before different court commissioners after their arrests. Commissioners enter basic information about suspects into the court system's computer database, set initial bails and show them the charges police have filed against them.
Kevin Wilson, an assistant state's attorney who led the investigation for Baltimore prosecutors, said the arrests of Parker and seven others capped a four-month investigation by narcotics prosecutors, city detectives and federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents.
In the raid on a home in the 3300 block of Burleith Ave. in Southwest Baltimore and on a red Chrysler minivan seen pulling away from the house, city detectives confiscated more than 300 grams of raw heroin and more than 750 gel caps filled with it, as well as marijuana, two digital scales, empty gel caps, a box of ammunition, and nearly $5,000, according to court records. The heroin has an estimated street value of $30,000.
"A gram of heroin is a lot," said Sterling Clifford, a spokesman for city police. "It's not very often a seizure of that size comes along."
Travis Donnell Hill, 29, who authorities say they believe is the head of the organization, was held without bail. Walter K. Smith, 28, of the 4200 block of Frederick Ave., posted $75,000 bail. And a District judge lowered Omar McDonald's bail from $500,000 to $50,000, which McDonald, 30, of the 500 block of S. Longwood St., then posted.
The four men are alleged to pool together money to purchase the heroin and then meet up daily - between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. - to package it into about 1,000 gel caps, which they then distribute to lieutenants on the street, according to law enforcement authorities.