Alleged criminals released from jail due to paperwork mishaps

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.

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.

Mistaken pretrial releases in Baltimore

Dale Wakefield, 21

Charges: Murder in the stabbing of a homeless man in Bucks County, Pa. Detained in Baltimore.

Release: Wakefield was released in July in what a corrections official called "a series of mishaps" while paperwork was being processed. He was recaptured hours later.

Cornelius Hayes, 36

Charges: Drug-related offenses, theft, second-degree assault.

Release: Arrested on drug allegations in Baltimore, Hayes was released in spite of a Baltimore County warrant issued on theft and second-degree-assault charges. He was recaptured within a few days.

Jeffrey Bryant, 22

Charges: Drug-related offenses, failure to appear in court

Release: Taken into custody on allegations that he missed a court date in a drug case, Bryant was released by mistake. Bryant was arrested again Sept. 3 on charges that he assaulted a man after he was freed.

Towanda Reaves, 50

Charges: Second-degree murder for allegedly rubbing methadone on the gums of a grandchild, causing his death.

Release: In August, a prosecutor mistakenly dropped the charges instead of refiling them from District Court to Circuit Court. Reaves turned herself in a few days later.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad