Goofs result in inmates being freed

March 25, 2009 3:12:28 PM PDT
Several deputies in the Harris County Sheriff's Department are under investigation after a man who was arrested on several warrants was mistakenly released from jail -- and it's not the first time that this has happened. [SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

When we first caught wind of this story a few weeks ago we asked the sheriff's office if there had been any accidental or erroneous releases since Sheriff Adrian Garcia took over on January 1. They assured us there had not. Now that we found some names, they admit there have been at least three people who walked out of the jail before they should have.

Walking right out the front doors at 49 San Jacinto, the Harris County Sheriff's office says it released inmate Lance Murray, 22, on February 19. They say they let him go after receiving word from Wichita County authorities that one of the charges against him there had been dismissed by a judge. The sheriff's office says the clerk here mistakenly didn't realize Murray had other warrants still pending.

"Our preliminary investigation shows that it was an error on our staff's part," explained Major Fred Brown with the Harris County Sheriff's office.

Murray had been arrested during a traffic stop in Harris County for alleged violation of a protective order. Authorities say he did ultimately surrender himself in Wichita County, but only after 12 days out of custody.

City of Houston Crime Victim's Advocate Andy Kahan said, "Certainly that person has the mindset to realize that he got the ultimate get out of jail free card, and recognizing the fact that he if he does return back to jail, that's he's probably going to go back to prison or something of that nature and is facing some serious consequences."

Kahan says even one mistaken release is too many.

"We need to make sure before we release somebody that all your I's are dotted, your T's are crossed, that there's no warrants out before something could happen," he said.

The Harris County Sheriff's office says it processes an average of more than 400 inmates a day, and that historically there's been about one erroneous release a month from the jail. In the two other erroneous releases that we have details on, we're told both were the result of clerical errors. One inmate was charged with theft and the other faced an allegation of DWI.

A sheriff's spokesperson says Garcia is apparently "unhappy" about the releases. He says the sheriff's office is reviewing procedures and looking at possible changes to software at the jail that might minimize future incidents. They're also looking at possibly disciplining the deputies and clerks involved in these cases.

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