Audit: Marion County inmates being held hours, sometimes days after posting bond

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.-- An internal court audit obtained exclusively by FOX59 News shows that despite promised improvements by Marion County Sheriff John Layton, some offenders in the Marion County criminal justice system languish in jail for hours and even days after courts have ordered them released on bond.

One offender lucky enough to be whisked right through the system in a timely manner was a City-County councilman charged with child molest.

The Office of the Marion County Superior Court Administrator last week undertook an audit of offenders who posted bond on Nov. 17 and could reasonably be expected to be set free within hours.

One woman posted bond at 2:46 p.m. on that Friday afternoon but was not released from custody until after eleven o’clock the following Sunday morning.

One man had his bond posted before dinnertime on Friday night but didn’t get home until Sunday afternoon.

Twenty-one bond-posting offenders were held from six to 46 hours after their court ordered releases, but one man was in and out of custody within 92 minutes.

That was City-County Councilman Jeff Miller who was charged with child molest and then posted a $10,000 surety bond at 8:50 p.m. and was released at 10:22 p.m. to hustle silently before television cameras on hand to record his exit from the lock up facilities in the basement of the City-County Building. Eight other arrestees in the same situation as Miller were released within two hours.

“Well, obviously they can get it right when they want to get it right and they pay attention to what they need to do,” said attorney Rich Waples, who is suing the sheriff’s office on behalf of thousands of offenders who were over detained. “They knew he was coming in and they wanted to get him out apparently and they could do it. They should be doing it with everybody. Not just him.”

Waples is seeking federal class action status for thousands of offenders who were kept too long in jail in 2014.

“The number of people that if affects is in the tens of thousands easily,” said Waples. “We had one study done that showed that just in the latter half of 2014 that the sheriff’s practices resulted in 38,000 extra days in jail for people who should have been released.”

Waples said that includes offenders held for hours or days after their bonds were posted, judges ordered them released on their own recognizance or they were found not guilty in court.

“They’re got way too many people languishing in jail who shouldn’t be there that have got court orders to be released and yet they’re still in jail and if we move those people out they probably wouldn’t be overcrowded in the first place.”

Layton has complained that inmate overcrowding is costing him millions of dollars every year in paying other jails to hold Marion County’s overflow.

His jail is the target of lawsuits not only claiming over detention, but also negligence in inmate suicides.

After FOX59 News obtained a copy of the internal audit, Presiding Judge Tim Oakes issued the following statement:

“As we continue to work with criminal justice stakeholders and partners within stressed facilities, the Courts have implemented various efficiencies to help with faster arrestee processing and jail overcrowding.  As part of that implementation, we regularly check and double check our workflow to evaluate our progress.  Those checks recently revealed possible inconsistences in arrestee processing times.  The Courts, in conjunction with the Sheriff’s Office and other stakeholders, are in the process of reviewing the accuracy of those inconsistencies and will address any gaps in the system that need be addressed.”

The audit was accompanied by a cover letter from the administrator’s staff that read, “Sadly we are not shocked and some of these times and the delay in our opinion should be brought up with the Sheriff’s office. We have individuals that have remained in custody for 46 hours, 36 hours, 20 hours etc. even after they have posted bonds.

“We also sent out an email to all the criminal courts asking for how many people were slated that were not brought to court.

“We are aware of at least one individual case that was scheduled for a Court Trial and everyone was here including witnesses and the Jail did not transport them here from where ever they are being housed even though the Judge of the court had a specific transport order – so the MCSO willfully went against a court’s written and communicated transport order.”

After FOX59 News provided the sheriff’s office with the court bond audit, a spokeswoman took issue with the Administrator’s report that offender releases were unreasonably delayed.

“The list that you provided earlier includes releases from throughout the entire Sheriff’s Office. The release of inmates from the Marion County Jail – as opposed to from Intake  - do take more time to process, especially if there is a hold from another agency,” wrote spokeswoman Katie Carlson. “Those releases should not be compared to individuals who are already located in Intake.”

MCSO provided data listing release times of less than two hours for offenders who bonded out of the Intake processing center as opposed to those inmates who bonded out of the jail.

Waples said in depositions he has conducted, sheriff’s officials contended that their policy allowed up to 48 hours to process offenders out of the jail once bond was posted.

The attorney said a federal judge has overruled that policy.

“They were supposedly getting better because then it was three, four days people were being held over after they were supposed to be released,” said Waples. “They said they got that down to maybe eight or nine hours. Well, this recent study by the court shows that for the vast majority of the people, they’re still taking days to release people.

“Anything more than six hours is unreasonable,” he said. “It is a violation of a court order and it’s a violation of the Constitution.

“It affects every taxpayer in Marion County because we’re picking up the bill to keep people in jail and when people that are ordered released are not released, it's costing us extra when the sheriff’s not doing his job.”

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story omitted the fact that eight other arrestees in the same situation as City-County Councilor Jeff Miller were released within two hours. This story has been changed to reflect that fact.