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Toney Says Jail Learned From Mistake

FARMVILLE – A felon mistakenly released last month by Piedmont Regional Jail was picked up at the jail and driven to Petersburg and did not walk free into the Farmville community, jail superintendent Ernest Toney said Wednesday morning.

“We've had over 50,000 people we've booked in over 24 years and you can count on two or three fingers how many people have been released inadvertently,” Toney said in an interview with The Herald. “But this was…a big foul up. It shouldn't have happened.”

Toney said, “there is no excuse other than (we) didn't do what (the jail) was supposed to do.”

As a consequence, Toney said, a jail employee “has been disciplined severely.”

The jail has responded to the mistake, he said, by implementing additional security measures to prevent it from happening again.

Thirty-one-year old Carter Sherrod Tillery was released on May 17 and it was seven days later, Toney said, when the mistake was discovered.

Within hours of learning a mistake had been made, the friend who had picked Tillery up at the jail, upon his release, and drove him to Petersburg was in the custody of law enforcement for questioning, Toney said.

“They've got good leads and U.S. Marshals told us that they're confident they're going to have him shortly,” Toney said.

Farmville Police Chief Doug Mooney told The Herald on Wednesday that, “The U.S. Marshal Service is conducting the investigation to try and find the prisoner. We have a lookout for him and it appears likely that he is no longer in the area, from what I have been told.”

Toney said what happened at the jail “is an embarrassment to us but at the same time we take pride in what we do, and we're pretty good at it. In any organization…even with top federal agencies, the FBI, the CIA, they make mistakes. When you're dealing with the human element mistakes can be made.”

Asked to explain what happened, Toney answered:

“We house inmates for Dinwiddie County, and of course they pay us to do so.

Dinwiddie had a writ to pick up (Tillery)…from a prison in Hazletown, West Virginia.

“(Tillery) came to the jail in January and he'd been going back and forth to Dinwiddie County for several charges…What happened was…he finally went to court on May 17…and all of the charges from Dinwiddie were Nolle prosequi, or not pursued,” Toney said.

Toney said the jail checked “to see if they had any holds on (Tillery) anywhere,” which would mean he should remain held in custody.

None were found, Toney said. “Now the reason he didn't have any is because he was already in federal prison so it wouldn't show (on the records checked).”

All that was seen “was Dinwiddie, Dinwiddie, Dinwiddie because that's what they've been dealing with since January,” Toney said.

The assumption was then made “that the only charges (Tillery) was being held on was from Dinwiddie. (The jail employee) saw all the charges were Nolle prosequi…and that made him eligible for release,” Toney said.

What the jail “didn't do,” Toney said, “was to look further into the file to see that a writ was in there-and a writ is from a local or state jurisdiction to transport and hold a federal inmate. Had (we) looked in the files, in the complete file, (we) would have seen the writ. The writ would have automatically alerted (the jail) that even though all the charges from Dinwiddie were settled (Tillery) still couldn't be released because he had that writ, which meant he was the property of the federal government.”

Why was there a seven-day lag in Tillery's release and discovery of the mistake?

Toney said Tillery was “released on the 17th and there was no reason to think any more of it. The reason it was realized later is because Dinwiddie came to pick him up and take him back to prison. So it was seven days, I think it was seven days had gone by. So it was not like you would have gone back to see if you had released somebody incorrectly or not….Dinwiddie came back to act on the writ to take the man back to federal prison. So the oversight was…not looking at the complete file.”

Upon his release, Tillery was picked up by a friend, according to Toney. “…He was taken back, they're from Petersburg, so he went back to Petersburg. He wasn't released in the town or anything like that. They picked him up…and left,” he said.

After the mistake was discovered, Toney said, Piedmont Regional Jail “gave Dinwiddie and the U.S. Marshals our surveillance cameras and they were able to actually pick the woman up who picked him up…We assisted them in everything we could.”

That included phone conversations from the period that Tillery was held at the jail, Toney said.

Law enforcement had “her under custody and interrogated her, so they've got good leads and U.S. Marshals told us that they're confident they're going to have him shortly,” Toney said.

Seeking to learn from the mistake, the jail has reiterated its release policies with jail employees, pointing out how the mistake was made and how to avoid it happening again.

“Not only have we done that but we've gone further to implement additional restrictions on any release,” Toney continued. “Any time any inmate comes in if they have outstanding charges…(a writ, etc.) we've got red stamps, new red stamps to stamp all over that folder to alert whoever's reviewing the file that these documents are in there. So we've taken this as a bump on the head but we're also learning. We've found ways to improve, to lessen the opportunities for this to happen again.

“It should never of happened,” Toney said, “but we've made sure it won't happen again.

“We run a tight ship. We really do. When you're dealing with the human element-like I said, we've booked over 50,000 people in and out of that jail since that jail's inception. When you're dealing with the human element, I mean people make mistakes,” the jail's superintendent said. “And what we've done is make improvements to insure that doesn't happen again.”