Officials: Employee error caused accidental release of convicted killer from prison

Officials: Employee error caused accidental release of convicted killer from prison

PLAQUEMINE, LA (WAFB) - The Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections Services has completed the review of an accidental release in Sept. 2015 of a man convicted of manslaughter and was to serve 40 years in prison. The review finds the error was by an employee and not the processes used in the transfer of the convicted felon.

According to officials with the Department of Corrections, in Sept. 2015 Benjuiel Johnson was getting released from Dixon Correctional Institute on good behavior for crimes not related to the manslaughter conviction. When prison employees ran his name in the system, the manslaughter conviction did not appear, so they let him go. Johnson, however, did have an outstanding charge for battery of a correctional officer.

Johnson pleaded guilty to manslaughter and illegal possession of a firearm by a convicted felon in 2013. He was sentenced to 35 years in prison for the manslaughter charge and five years for the illegal possession of a firearm charge.

After being released from Dixon, Johnson was transported and booked into the East Feliciana Parish Detention Center and processed for the outstanding battery of a correctional officer charge. A $10,000 bond was issued. Johnson posted bond and was released from prison. He then fled to Georgia before the department realized the mistake.

The US Marshals Service arrested Johnson at a Motel 6 in an Atlanta suburb on Friday, Oct. 2.

During the review of the accidental release, there was information gathered from Iberville Parish about Johnson's manslaughter conviction, including the charging document, a state uniform commitment order, and bill of indictment. Upon examination of documents in the possession of Avoyelles Parish Sheriff's Office, there was only one document that revealed somewhat helpful information, which was an order for Johnson to appear for trial in February 2013 at the Iberville Courthouse.

The review was unable to determine if the paperwork from Iberville Parish actually made it to Avoyelles Parish when Johnson was transported. Documents from Iberville Parish were not part of any records reviewed from Avoyelles and there is nothing to indicate that they were ever received by DOC Headquarters or Dixon Correctional Institute.

Additionally, the transport order for Johnson found at Avoyelles was not in records information sent with the offender when he transferred from Avoyelles Parish jail to Dixon Correctional Institute in February 2014.

According to DOC officials, upon the release of an offender from DOC custody, there are procedures that records staff must follow in order to clear the offender for release. One of the safeguards built into the process is to pull of offender's criminal history information maintained by Louisiana State Police to check for arrests without dispositions or recent criminal charges. The Department's initial review found that the DCI records employee assigned to process Johnson's release failed to follow written procedures to pull his current rap sheet. The Department's more extensive review confirmed this.

Although there was no paperwork in Johnson's file to indicate he received the 40-year sentence, there was a clear indication on the offender's rap sheet that should have prompted further inquiry from the records employee. Had the employee properly reviewed and followed up on the information, the offender would not have been released and his sentence would have been recalculated.

After the review, a letter was sent to sheriffs and local jail operators detailing a new procedure of submitting paperwork when an offender already in custody receives an additional conviction. The letter also contained a reminder of basic jail guidelines policy that requires offender records to be transferred with the offender when the offender is reassigned to another local or state facility.

The review also determines the current written policy for offender release procedures is adequate, but to enhance the written policy, a checklist form was created to guide records employees on the process.

The DCI records employee who "failed to follow proper release procedures" received a four percent reduction in pay, which is equal to a two-week suspension without pay.

"Johnson's release was not an intentional mistake on anyone's part but it nonetheless was a serious one," said DPS&C Secretary James M. Le Blanc. "These additional steps and employee training provide increased safeguards going forward."

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