A Kentucky jail accidentally set an inmate free. This judge wants answers.
A Boyd County Circuit Court judge recommended a grand jury investigation Friday after the Boyd County Detention Center failed to notify local or state law enforcement after mistakenly releasing an inmate last week who displayed “extreme indifference to the value of human life,” according to the inmate’s indictment.
Detention center officials freed James Muth, 37, on July 2 after the jail received an alert that Muth had a notice of discharge in another county, according to Sgt. Brad Roberts of the detention center, who answered questions about the incident in court Friday.
Despite the notice of discharge, Muth still had a pending case in Boyd County, and the court had set a $50,000 bail on his case because of a high probability he would flee, Circuit Court Judge John Vincent said.
“Unfortunately, that’s proven true,” Vincent said. “Let’s hope the second basis for my bond setting, his danger to the public, is not.”
Roberts said jail personnel normally check to see if inmates face charges locally before releasing them. In Muth’s case, however, the jail failed to follow that procedure.
Roberts was the only official from the detention center who answered questions during Friday’s hearing.
The Boyd County Jailer, Joe Burchett, did not respond to requests for comment.
Muth, the inmate, was charged with first degree assault and second degree persistent felony offender after an alleged assault in March 2017. That assault happened at a supervised group home for parolees and people on probation, and left the victim with serious head injuries, including a lacerated face, broken nose and broken cheekbone, Vincent said.
Muth was not arrested until April 2018, though, because law enforcement were not able to find him, Vincent said. He was arraigned in Boyd County in late June, and listed a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., address at the time of his arrest.
During Friday’s hearing, Roberts described the circumstances that led to Muth’s release, but provided no clear explanation of why jail personnel did not check his status in Boyd County, or why the jail did not contact law enforcement after his release.
Roberts said he, on the day of Muth’s release, saw an email to the detention center that showed notices of discharge for Muth and another inmate. Roberts then told another jail official about the notices, but did not tell that officer to release him, Roberts said.
Later that day, a jail employee allowed Muth to leave the detention center without checking if the inmate faced charges in Boyd County.
“I don’t understand why no one would check the county in which the jail serves,” Vincent said.
Roberts discovered that the detention center had mistakenly released Muth the following morning. He contacted law enforcement in Ohio and Florida, where Muth was a resident previously, but did not tell any local law enforcement department, Kentucky State Police or court official.
Roberts said detention center personnel likely realized the error just minutes after Muth was released, but contacted no one.
Boyd County Commonwealth Attorney Rhonda Copley said her office was not notified until Monday, a week after Muth was released. Her office is working to assemble a grand jury investigation.
The Boyd County Detention Center has come under heavy scrutiny from local officials in Boyd County for other mishaps, including a riot in August 2017 in which inmates allegedly attacked jail deputies and started a fire in one of the jail’s hallways.
About three months before the riot, four inmates escaped from the detention center by breaking through a mop closet into an unsecured area of the jail. The inmates left through an emergency exit.
In December, another four inmates escaped, this time through an air duct that led to the roof.
Following the December escapes, the Boyd County Fiscal Court asked the Boyd County Jailer, Burchett, to resign.
In February, a grand jury indicted Burchett on a malfeasance charge, which carries a maximum fine of $1,000 and does not carry the possibility of a jail sentence. That case is ongoing, but if Burchett is convicted, he could be forced to resign from his position as jailer.
According to court records, a judge granted Burchett’s request for a change of venue. Burchett, through an attorney, argued that media coverage of the jailer and his indictment would not allow for a fair trial. The case will proceed in Rowan County.