Foot-dragging by state prison officials allowed a Santa Rosa man to languish in Sonoma County jail an extra week and brought the wrath of a local judge on Tuesday.
Barry Shell, 53, was ordered to be released Dec. 27 after serving his time for a second-degree burglary conviction and parole violations stemming from past drug offenses.
But there was a problem in the computer. Jailers said they couldn’t release him last week because of an outdated “hold” from California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
Judge Gary Medvigy told local officials to work it out. When Shell remained behind bars Friday morning, he faxed a letter to state corrections officials telling them to lift the hold immediately.
The note was never received. A state computer entry clerk left work early on Friday and Shell stayed in jail over the New Year’s weekend.
By Tuesday, Shell was still in custody. And Medvigy wasn’t happy.
In a hearing that could only be described as tense, the judge warned jail Lt. Mike Toby and Josh Myers, deputy county counsel, that he might put the two of them in jail if the matter wasn’t resolved forthwith.
He ordered both men to return with their bosses for an afternoon session that could have led to contempt charges.
“He said, “I feel like the two of you need to go into custody for five days and see what it’s like to have your freedom taken away,” said Shell’s lawyer, deputy public defender Karen Silver. “I was really impressed.”
Officials scrambled to make things right during the break. Within 45 minutes, Shell had doffed his blue jail uniform and was a free man.
Silver said with the county taking over more state functions these days, it’s important that crucial information — such as release dates — be relayed in a timely manner.
“A week is just way too long,” she said. “I’ve never seen it take this long.”
Later, Medvigy said he wasn’t sure who if anyone would have been held in contempt, a charge which carries a maximum five-day jail sentence and up to a $1,000 fine.
But the judge and ex-prosecutor who’s seen by some as favoring law enforcement, said it could have been the sheriff or a state corrections official. He said the jail must get serious about correcting any future bureaucratic breakdowns that infringe on peoples’ rights.
“A judge has to look out for excesses and mistakes that involve police, prosecutors and the jail,” he said. “It goes to the core of why we are and must remain independent.”