Marion County Court and Sheriff release sex offender by mistake

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By Russ McQuaid

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (November 2, 2014) — Marion County’s criminal justice system continues to be bedeviled by miscommunication leading to the inadvertent releases of jail inmates.

Torrey Pargo, a 27-year-old sex offender, was mistakenly released by the Marion County Jail Saturday night after employees of Marion Superior Court listed a wrong code number in his file.

It’s a mistake the sheriff’s department should have caught.

Throughout the summer Sheriff John Layton’s jail staff and employees of the courts have struggled to implement a new case management tracking system. Odyssey replaced an older system and sought to knit together several data bases.

After a number of mistaken releases, blamed on human error and system failures, Layton called in Dr. Jon Padfield of Proffer Brainchild Inc., to lead a Six Sigma systems review of Odyssey and its implementation. In September Padfield issued 26 recommendations to streamline the process by which the courts and the jail would determine which offenders should be released from custody.

Layton complained that his employees, shackled by 1990s technology, were often left to sift through voluminous contradictory or incomplete paper documentation.

One of Padfield’s recommendations include instituting a “green light/red light” approach that relied on specific codes designating release orders and thus eliminating review of paperwork.

On October 7th, Lt. Col. Louis Dezelan of MCSD wrote a letter to Judge John Chavis informing him that, “Effective November 1, 2014, Marion County Sheriff’s Office jail records staff will cease reading court minutes, e-mail, and all other extraneous communication. Instead, jail records personnel will rely soley on the codes used by the Courts in the ‘Jail Court Communication’ to make release decisions. This should effectively help speed the jail release process.”

Layton told Fox 59 News that when Chavis’ court issued an order Friday, October 31st, that Pargo was to be released to Community Corrections to receive a GPS electronic monitoring device, court personnel listed the wrong code on the offender’s file.

“We had gotten information from the courts to release him on one charge and on the other charge the courts had put the wrong release code in the minutes to the sheriff’s office,” said Layton, “so, you know, when we get an order to release that’s what we’re going to do.”

Layton said Pargo, “should’ve been held actually to go to Community Corrections with a GPS on his leg, but he got out the door before we got that done because of the code that the court had given us through the new computer system.”

The sheriff said the mistaken release happened at approximately 9 p.m. Saturday, was discovered quickly, and Pargo was back in custody 12 hours later.

Layton said he didn’t know how his staff discovered Pargo was released by mistake, however, a close check of the Chronological Case Summary by the sheriff’s staff, under its existing protocols, would have revealed the court’s Community Corrections order.

The judicial officer’s order was signed Friday, while Layton’s staff still operated under a policy of reviewing court paperwork, but Pargo did not come up for release until Saturday night, 21 hours after the new “code review only” policy went into effect.

Dezelan admitted to Fox 59 News that if the jail staff had been operating under its rules regarding releases ordered before midnight Friday, it would have caught the court’s mistake. Instead the staff operated under the November rules that took effect at 12:01 a.m. that did not allow for a review of paperwork that was filed before its new policies went into effect.

“The buck does have to stop here. It does have to stop somewhere,” said Layton, “but, you know, we’re not alone in this. We have the courts. We have so many different systems here in Marion County that we have to work with and they have to do their job as well as us do ours.”

This most recent inadvertent release comes just days before Layton asks Marion County voters to return him to office for another four years.

His republican challenger Emmitt Carney, a former federal agent, said if elected he would meet with top commanders to tackle the inmate management problem.

“One, you’ve got to have somebody who would be totally fulltime assigned to that. You’ve got to have the right people in a group. Maybe we’ve got to have a specific group of people dealing with the release of prisoners or individuals and I think that would streamline it. Everybody would be on the same page and I think that’s one way to counter that.”

Carney, who attended a GOP phone bank Sunday, has run an underfunded campaign with little party support.

“I’ve always said I’m the underdog. I feel like I’m the worthy opponent, but, yes, I’m the underdog. I mean, you’re in the democratic county and you’re going up against the machine.”

While Layton’s TV campaign has aired commercials highlighting his crackdown on sex offenders, county Republicans have relied on three glossy mailers, without Carney’s name, attacking the incumbent for jail problems.

“When you don’t have a record you can say anything you want,” said Layton, “and this election has been proof positive of that. They can say anything they want. It doesn’t even have to be true.

“I don’t know of any other sheriff’s department that even reports the people that got out the door one way or another, whether it’s courts or employees or whatever it might be,” said the sheriff, noting his mistaken release rate is less than 1% of the 65,000 inmates who pass through his facilities each year. “All around us every day that happens in Indiana and across the country, but it seems to have been focused here in Marion County for whatever reasons but it’s usually political not only on behalf of my opponent but the media itself blowing things up.”

Layton was recently named Indiana’s Sheriff of the Year and is in line to become the leader of a national sheriff’s organization.

Layton said Judge John Chavis apologized to him for his staff’s mistake.

“I appreciate the commitment of MCSO in helping address these IT issues and I look forward to working together to improve the entire system,” Layton’s staff quoted the judge as saying.

The sheriff told FOX59 News he would send staffers to the court Monday to meet with Judge Chavis’ employees to determine how the release was made and what steps could be taken to minimize the risk of such mistakes in the future.

Late Sunday night the Marion County Sheriff’s Department provided a copy of an opinion by the Court Administrator regarding Pargo’s release.

“(T)he Court Staff used a Sheriff Custody event code that was not booked on in (Odyssey Management System).

“(T)he Court should have prepared a remand form, and used the (DHC) Defendant to be Held in Custody event code on that case. That did not occur.

“(T)he Sheriff’s Department properly followed the Court’s Order by releasing Mr. Pargo pursuant to the release code entered October 31, 2014.”

The finding is signed by Derek M. Peterson, Information Technology & Training Coordinator.

Layton told FOX59 News that Dezelan’s letter to Judge Chavis, “asks the Courts to immediately utilize ‘Jail Court Communication’ to communicate release information, and to cease all other forms of jail release communication.”

Despite its directive to the court, the Dezelan letter, in the next paragraph, informs the judge that the sheriff’s new procedures won’t go into effect until Nov. 1.

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