Fayette jail officers who mistakenly released inmate could face discipline, retraining

Rodney Bell had an outstanding federal warrant for possessing cocaine.
Rodney Bell had an outstanding federal warrant for possessing cocaine.

Fayette County corrections officers who accidentally released an inmate due to a clerical error will likely face discipline or retraining, the director of the jail said Monday.

Rodney Dewayne Bell, 28, was still on the run Monday evening, more than two weeks after he was mistakenly released from the Fayette County Detention Center. Corrections officers let him go April 5 after he paid a $1,000 bond on a contempt of court charge.

Three days later, jail staff realized Bell should not have been released because he had an outstanding federal warrant in an unrelated drug case. He was charged in U.S. District Court March 7 with possessing cocaine with intent to distribute.

On Monday, Jail Director Rodney Ballard elaborated on the paperwork error that led to Bell's release and allowed a Herald-Leader reporter to view the documents.

When Bell was booked into the jail, the Fayette County sheriff's deputy who transported him provided six pages of documents to jail staff. The second page in the stack indicated there were "no detainers," which typically would indicate an outstanding warrant, on file for Bell. However, the bottom document in the stack was a handwritten notice that had been faxed to the sheriff's office that said "Be advised, Mr. Bell ... has federal holders."

Ballard said Bell's release was the result of human error rather than a policy failure. The corrections officers who released Bell failed to read the whole file and relied on the page in which the sheriff's deputy indicated Bell had no warrants on file, he said.

"If they had continued looking through the documents, they would have seen the fax that said not to release him," he said. "Ideally, they would have made a phone call to get it clarified."

Ballard said the documents passed through the hands of several corrections officers and an internal investigation is ongoing. The level of discipline will ultimately depend on who first handled the documents and whether they had ever been disciplined for a similar issue.

"Any time we have inadvertent releases ... we take that very seriously," he said.

The jail has had other inadvertent releases. In 2011, officers accidentally released Hafit Martinez-Hipolito, who was under indictment on charges of retaliating against a witness and fourth-degree assault, while processing the release of Hipolito's brother.

In 2009, they released Brian Christopher Sims, 23, who had pending charges of possession of a handgun by a felon and fleeing and evading police.

Bell had not turned himself in despite media reports about his release and wanted posters posted in downtown Lexington.

"As long as he is not in the facility when he should be, we ... will continue searching for him," Lexington police spokeswoman Sherelle Roberts said.