Clerical error frees violent felon for a week
Deputies recapture man sentenced to 8 years in prison who walked free
SANJOSE » Freed by accident from Elmwood jail last week, a convicted felon who had just been sentenced to eight years in state prison for pistol-whipping his robbery victim spent seven days on the lam, including shopping at a popular East San Jose mall— and posting selfies of the trip on Instagram.
David Lopez, 31, was nabbed shortly before noon Thursday at a San Jose golf course, sources said, a week after being released from the Santa Clara County jail in Milpitas by mistake.
The embarrassing incident started a week ago, when what started out as an extremely crummy
day for Lopezmorphed into a miraculously lucky one.
A judge sentenced him Sept. 28 to eight years in state prison for pistol-whipping an acquaintance two years ago while both were high on meth, and then stealing his jewelry, a PlayStation and TV.
But a few hours after the sentencing hearing, correctional deputies at Elmwood ushered him out the door at 7:45 p.m.
The errant release occurred because of amistake a civilian clerk in the administrative booking unit of the Department of Correction made, sources said.
What apparently happened was the court had sent over two separate “minute orders,” forms that document each stage of every court case.
One page reported that Lopez had been sentenced by Judge Hector E. Ramon to time he had already served for a separate, unrelated grand theft.
That meant he could no longer be held in custody on that charge and had to be released as soon as possible.
But the clerk apparently did not take note of a separate page regarding Lopez, which reported his prison sentence for the robbery conviction.
To compound matters, because Lopez was no longer listed as an inmate, jail officials had no way of knowing he was missing until they found out about the paperwork mistake early Wednesday, six days after he walked out of Elmwood.
But within a little more than 24 hours after discovering it, sheriff’s deputies who stayed up all night working on the case had nabbed him Thursday, at Rancho del Pueblo Golf Course.
Sources said he had just arrived at the course when he was captured; it was unclear whether he planned to golf or shag balls, or was visiting for some other reason.
Prior to that, Lopez had posted the Instagram photographs of himself enjoying a day at EastridgeMall.
Errant releases are rare, but the county can be held liable if an inmate who is mistakenly released commits another crime, damages something or injures someone.
Undersheriff Carl Neusel, who also serves as chief of the county’s Department of Correction, issued a written statement Thursday, vowing to take steps to ensure such mistakes do not occur again.
“This entire event is unacceptable and alarming to us at the Sheriff’s Office,” according to the statement. “We are thankful we were able to bring Lopez back into custody quickly upon the discovery of our error. We are reviewing our checks and balances to incorporate added security measures in our court docket review processes.”
The mistake was the latest in a series of black eyes for the Sheriff’s Office and county, which jointly run the jails. In 2015, a men- tally ill inmate was beaten to death by three jail guards who were convicted of second- degree murder earlier this year and are set to be sentenced later this year to 15 years to life in prison.
Last November, four inmates escaped from a second- story dorm on the eve of Thanksgiving after spending days cutting through the bars of a cell window and rappelling to the ground using a rope fashioned out of clothes and bedding.
A former police offi- cer held in a neighboring cell on sex charges told at least three correctional officers that he heard suspicious sounds, according to sources familiar with the investigation.
However, correctional deputies didn’t fully investigate that tip. They also failed to remove a makeshift opaque shade covering the cell window — in clear violation of jail policy — that masked the inmates’ handiwork, the sources said.
Former Undersheriff John Hirokawa, who is running against Sheriff Laurie Smith in the upcoming June election, criticized her late Thursday for the Lopez incident, calling the accidental release of a serious and violent felon “emblematic of Laurie Smith’s incompetence and inability to safely manage the jails.”
“Moreover, her failure to immediately notify the public that this violent inmate had been mistakenly released put the public at serious risk of harm,” Hirokawa said in a written statement.
Smith did not directly address why she didn’t warn the public and release Lopez’s mug shot, but earlier in the day, her staff asked this news organization to refrain from posting the story on the web because deputies were on the brink of capturing him and were afraid he would flee or take hostages.
Instead, Smith blamed Hirokawa, who as undersheriff and chief of the corrections department before he retired used to supervise the administrative booking unit.
“Unfortunately, cleaning up the messes left by the recently departed chief of corrections is a full-time job,” Smith said in a written statement. “We have added additional oversight to ensure this doesn’t happen again, and I want to commend our deputies for responding as swiftly as they did to apprehend the suspect after this paperwork error.”