What is it with the Broward County justice system down there in Florida? The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports that a man indicted on first-degree murder charges is now on the run after the Broward County jail he was being held in claims he was mistakenly set free due to a supposed clerical error by the clerk's office. But, neither the court house nor the jail is actually taking responsibility for the screwup.
Rafael Omeda reports that Eric Vail was arrested in January after allegedly shooting and killing a man with an AR-15 in October in Florida. Originally, he was accused of second-degree murder. But in March, authorities arrested a co-defendant Christopher Avery Campbell on charges of first-degree murder. Following an investigation, police determined "Vail and Campbell were in a Nissan Altima when they pulled alongside Harris and opened fire with an AR-15-style rifle. Harris, who was driving a pickup, died instantly. Investigators concluded Vail was the shooter and Campbell was driving the Nissan."
Both men were the indicted on April 3rd by a grand jury. However, the grand jury dropped Vail's initial second-degree murder charge, and instead indicted him for first-degree murder. But, apparently, that was never relayed to the jail. So what happened? Omeda breaks it down for readers:
He was supposed to be held without bond on the more serious charge, but the clerk’s office never sent that paperwork to the jail.
After the change to Vail’s criminal charges, the clerk’s office never generated a “capias” — or an order to arrest or detain the 28-year-old defendant.
The Broward Sheriff’s Office, which runs the jail, may have compounded the problem: It wasn’t required to check the clerk’s website to see whether Vail had other cases against him. Sheriff’s officials say checking the clerk’s website is not part of their routine procedures because it’s unreliable “and not an official warrant database.” The jail searches for a capias, a warrant, or a court order, not the clerk’s website.That search also would have flagged the breakdown in communication between the clerk and the sheriff’s office and kept a suspected murderer from going free.
But the jail released Vail anyways. This was a costly mistake argues the clerk's office.
“In order to release a prisoner from confinement, a directive from the judiciary is required,” Dian Diaz, chief operating officer for Broward Clerk of Courts Brenda Forman told media this week.
That order was never given. But, the jail argues that since the aforementioned capias was never sent on April 3, they were never aware that Vail should be held which is why he was released.
However, Omeda says that "Even without the capias, whether the Sheriff’s Office should have known to hold Vail remains in dispute. The April indictment contains an explicit court order to hold Vail without bond. Coleman-Wright said it was the clerk’s responsibility to notify the jail about that order with the capias."
But Vail's public defender Howard Finklestein says both parties need to simply figure out what happened so future incidents never happen again. “If [the jail's] query does not have them check their local database to see if the defendant has another case then the query is stupid,” Finklestein said. “The sheriff’s office and the clerk’s office need to stop focusing on blaming each other and start taking measures to make sure this never happens again.”