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Chicago man free from prison for 9 months after paperwork snafu

Walter Redawn Dixon

Walter Redawn Dixon

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Updated: October 29, 2013 6:16AM

Walter Redawn Dixon’s troubled life looked to have hit rock bottom last September, when a judge in Iowa sentenced the Chicago man to 16 years in federal prison for dealing heroin that killed his friend and almost killed another person.

But instead of staring at drab prison walls, Dixon, 33, has spent the last 9 ½ months on the outside — because he was mistakenly released from prison in an apparent paperwork snafu, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.

Dixon’s freedom came to an end Friday morning, when deputies with the U.S. Marshals Service for the Northern District of Illinois scooped him up.

The news about Dixon’s mistaken release comes in the wake of three accidental releases from Cook County Jail during the course of this year.

It wasn’t clear just where Dixon was located in the district or what he’s been doing with his time, but Ken Robinson, supervisor for Prisoner Operations for the Marshals Service, said deputies nabbed Dixon after getting a call last week from their counterparts in Iowa who’d only just learned of the felon’s mistaken release. Dixon did not put up a fight, Robinson said.

Dixon’s criminal history is complicated. He was mistakenly released Dec. 14, 2012 — not from federal prison — but from Stateville Correctional Center in Joliet, where he was finishing up a sentence in an unrelated Cook County case before beginning his federal prison term.

“He didn’t go back to federal [custody] because we didn’t receive a detainer order,” said Tom Shaer, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Corrections. “I don’t know who is responsible for that. All I know is, we didn’t get it.”

Robinson says the federal detainer — an order to hold a prisoner — was filed with the Cook County sheriff’s office, the agency that had custody of Dixon before he was sent to Joliet.

“The detainer was filed with Cook County,” Robinson insisted Friday. “When [Dixon] was moved to the Illinois Department of Corrections, they say they never received the detainer from Cook County. … They never knew to call us.”

Cara Smith, chief of policy and communications for the sheriff’s office, disputes that.

“We have every reason to believe that information was passed on with the body when he was sent to the state Department of Corrections,” said Smith, noting she’d personally reviewed Dixon’s file.

Smith also said it’s odd that someone facing a 16-year federal term would be returned to Cook County in this case, to deal with an aggravated DUI case stemming from Dixon’s arrest in January, 2012 in Chicago.

“It’s nonsensical to move someone from federal custody to state custody [facing] such a significant sentence,” Smith said.

Just how Dixon has spent his unexpected liberty is unclear.

“I didn’t know Walter had been released from state prison, for sure,” said Mark Meyer, Dixon’s lawyer in Iowa, in an email to the Chicago Sun-Times. “I had heard that he was in Chicago, but I didn’t put much stock in that information. I haven’t heard from Walter since the sentencing hearing in federal court.”

Dixon’s conviction in Iowa stemmed from a 16-count federal indictment alleging Dixon and several accomplices conspired to deal drugs in Cedar Rapids from 2009 to 2011, among other allegations. Meyer said his clients had lived in Cedar Rapids for a time and had friends there.

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