SUNDAY EDITION | FOP claims Metro Corrections officials breaking law after inmates released in error
Jail officers claim officials are ignoring proper procedures – such as getting a warrant - and told officers they would be fired if they didn’t comply with orders to retrieve mistakenly released inmates.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – When John Medley appeared before Jefferson District Court Judge Anne Delahanty on April 26, she noted that he had been mistakenly released from Metro Corrections – twice.
“You’re one of the luckiest guys I know,” the judge told Medley. “I feel like I should ask you some lottery numbers or something so we can all get rich.”
But Medley’s good fortune has become a major headache for Metro Corrections.
After Medley was released in error in April, Metro Corrections officials ordered officers to retrieve him.
Metro Corrections Sgt. Jim Kitts refused the order, saying he had talked with local judges who told him it was illegal to take into custody a person who was “released in good faith and had not committed any new crimes,” according to a complaint he filed that month.
In his complaint, Kitts said he felt his job was threatened when he refused to apprehend Medley and another inadvertently released inmate, adding that other LMDC officers have been treated the same way in similar incidents.
Kitts accused Metro Corrections Director Mark Bolton, Assistant Director Steve Durham and Chief of Staff Dwayne Clark of ignoring proper procedures – such as getting a warrant - and told officers they would be fired if they didn’t comply with orders.
“No one … should be submitted to these types of threats and coercion from senior staff,” Kitts wrote in his complaint obtained by WDRB News.
The Medley case is not an isolated issue, said Tracy Dotson, president of the Louisville Corrections Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 77. Dotson said the erroneous releases and subsequent illegal orders to track the inmates down without a court order has become a pattern, causing the FOP to file a grievance against the jail.
“Once those people are released, whether it’s an error or not, they are officially released,” Dotson said in an interview. To properly put the person back in custody, Dotson said, the jail must go through the court system and get an arrest warrant.
“You just can’t go snatch them off the street,” he said, adding that it puts officers in both legal and physical jeopardy. “That is putting them in harm’s way.”
But in an interview this week, Durham, who is a spokesman for Metro Corrections, said the jail stands by its procedures and will not wait for a warrant before trying to find an inmate who has erroneously been released – arguing they technically should still be in custody.
“We’re going to go out and get them and return them safely back to custody,” Durham said. “It’s a public safety issue.”
"Not going to wait"
Each year, about five or so Metro Corrections inmates are released in error. Sometimes sentences are calculated incorrectly, Durham said. Other times, people are wrongly released because of a mistaken bond amount.
The jail has for years attempted to apprehend these people as quickly as possible, while at the same time going through the court system to get a warrant, Durham said.
“We’re not going to wait to get a warrant before we start looking for an individual who is out of our custody and should be in custody,” Durham said. “If we make an error, it’s our error and we’ve got to fix it.”
Durham said Metro Corrections officers are “peace officers” who have the authority and training to take someone into custody. As for someone taking legal action, Durham said, “In this business, everything we do is a potential lawsuit.”
But corrections officials and some judges said Metro Corrections has to get a warrant from a judge or they risk legal action for a warrantless arrest.
“Any arrest without a warrant would not be proper,” said Jefferson District Court Judge Stephanie Burke, who has not been directly involved in the recent cases. “Sending officers out to make arrests without a warrant in this tense climate could lead to dangerous situations, which put their lives in jeopardy.”
Burke said even when an inmate escapes from Metro Corrections, officers must come to court to get a warrant before arresting them. She said that some judges have discussed the issue and told Metro Corrections they need to follow this procedure.
“I think they should get some legal advice,” Burke said.
Dotson said some officers have had their jobs threatened for refusing the orders. Others have agreed to try and pick up the released inmates rather than face disciplinary action.
Durham denied that any officers have been threatened with losing their jobs.
In his complaint, Kitts said in the case of an inmate released in error in December, a district court judge did not issue a warrant, but instead simply gave the defendant a new court date.
“If we lock him up (just based on release in error) we had better retain legal counsel,” Kitts quoted Jefferson District Court Judge Gina Calvert as saying, according to his complaint.
Durham said he has not heard Calvert say this. Calvert declined to comment for this story.
Kitts also claims a judge said the jail was erroneously releasing inmates far too often, and the judges were “tired of covering for the jail” by issuing warrants.
In the Medley case, he was supposed to serve 173 days in jail for a theft conviction when he was released in error.
“Per Chief of Staff Clark, we were to drop everything and send all available officers out to look for and apprehend this subject,” Kitts wrote in his complaint.
While trying to get a warrant, Kitts said he and another sergeant were called to Clark’s office and asked why they were not obeying the order.
When told he believed the order to be illegal, Clark responded that he had “not made it this long in this career by doing illegal, immoral or unethical behaviors,” Kitts claims in his complaint. And Clark told him the judge Kitts had spoken with was wrong.
“Well, apparently she doesn’t know the law very well,” Clark allegedly said. “I have not made it this far in my career by being wrong.”
Eventually, Clark dismissed Kitts and another officer and allegedly told them, “I’m going to get my gun and look for and arrest him myself.”
Durham said he didn’t know if Clark actually said this but “that sounds like a passionate person. That sounds like someone who is really concerned about public safety.”
Waiting for a warrant, Durham said, could waste valuable time needed to catch the individual.
“Minutes make a difference,” he said.
Attorney Mary Sharp, who represents Kitts and the FOP said that is reckless.
“You don’t seize a person without the court order," she said. "You get the order and then you take action.”
The FOP has said it is meeting with the mayor’s office about the issue. As part of the grievance, the FOP wants the jail to issue a policy to deal with erroneously released inmates that follows the law.
Durham said the grievance is ongoing but they will continue to get improperly released inmates back in custody as soon as possible.
“The director and (FOP) leadership are going to get this resolved” he said.
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