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Inmate in custody after mistaken release from Cook County Jail

Jeremiah Harris was mistakenly released from Cook County Jail.

Jeremiah Harris was mistakenly released from Cook County Jail.

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Updated: October 20, 2013 7:35AM



Armed habitual criminal Jeremiah Harris told Cook County Jail guards he wasn’t supposed to be let out, his sister said.

But they let him go, anyway.

It was the third time this year — and the second time in three months — that an inmate has been mistakenly released from the county jail.

Harris’ release Monday went unnoticed by authorities until Wednesday. That’s when he was apprehended at his sister’s home in Carpentersville, his sister and authorities said.

He had spent two days there as a free man, eating his favorite soul food and watching TV, said sister, Sophia Harris, 29.

The snafu may have occurred because a judge didn’t enter an order alerting jail officials that Harris should be returned to state prison, said Cara Smith, chief of policy and communications for the Cook County Sheriff’s Office.

Harris, who is serving a 12-year prison term for being an armed habitual criminal, had been in the county jail since June awaiting trial in a 2007 murder and for a possible violation of probation in a 2006 unlawful use of a weapon case. On Monday, Harris was found not guilty in the murder case and a Cook County judge terminated the probation in the weapons case, Smith said.

He was supposed to return to Stateville Correctional Center in Joliet, Smith said. But Cook County Judge Kevin Sheehan, who records show was overseeing the murder case, apparently never entered an order to return Harris to Stateville, Smith said. Sheehan declined to comment Wednesday.

“The orders generated on Monday didn’t contain any language remanding him back to the [Illinois Department of Corrections], nor to the Cook County Department of Corrections,” Smith said.

The Illinois Department of Corrections declined to comment on the snafu, saying in a statement, “We have tremendous respect for Sheriff [Tom] Dart and his people and do not speculate on procedural matters occurring before an inmate is received by this Department.”

Harris told the guards to “stop playin’ ” when they ordered him to pack up, his sister said. She said the family didn’t know until Wednesday that Harris was supposed to be locked up.

But the guards “go with the official paperwork they’re given” sheriff spokesman Ben Breit said.

Smith said Harris was arrested about 4 p.m. Wednesday in Carpentersville. Smith said the sheriff’s office learned about the mistake when it received a call from a Cook County Judge Mary Margaret Brosnahan alerting deputies to the error.

Mistakenly released inmates apparently tend to return to the homes of those they know.

One man accused of domestic violence was found at his girlfriend’s home in late August after the jail mistakenly released him July 30. His absence went undetected until he was a no-show in court. He was apprehended that day. At the time, a sheriff’s spokesman said it appeared staff mistakenly thought prosecutors had dropped all charges against the man.

In January, a man convicted of murder was mistakenly released, but was apprehended days later in Kankakee, officials said. Sheriff Tom Dart said at the time that he thought a paperwork problem was to blame.

Although Smith said each mistaken release this year had stemmed from a different cause, she emphasized the need for a computerized system to more seamlessly update court files.

“We have been very vocal about our need for a computer system,” Smith said. “We still deal solely with paper.

The sheriff’s department is still investigating who is to blame for the screwup, but Smith said it’s “my sense” that a judge was responsible.

“Regardless of the case, we’ll evaluate what happened, and it’s always our goal that it never happens again,” Smith said.

Meanwhile, Sophia Harris said she’s saddened that her brother is once again locked up.

“It’s hurtful, but he’s gotta go do the time,” she said. “I’m just happy I had him a couple of days.”

Contribuing: Tina Sfondeles



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