Error results in unnecessary jail time

2013-04-04T13:43:00Z 2013-04-06T11:09:05Z Error results in unnecessary jail timeMARLA TONCRAY Ledger Independent
April 04, 2013 1:43 pm  • 

Questions have been raised as to why an inmate was incarcerated 65 days longer than necessary after a grand jury elected not to indict him on charges of first-degree unlawful imprisonment.

The case involves 22-year-old Travis W. Suesz, who was arrested Dec. 15, 2012, for allegedly holding his mother at knife point at their home on Germantown Road.  Suesz was held at the Mason County Detention Center on a $10,000 cash bond while his case went through the legal system and was just released on Sunday, March 31.

Mason County Deputy Josh Germann responded to the call in December and took Suesz into custody after his mother, Carolyn Tovar-Martinez said her son was holding her against her will and threatened her life.

Germann's report, as well as an audio recording of Suesz's preliminary hearing before District Judge John R. Cox on Dec. 19, state Suesz told Germann Mexicans were inside his mother and he needed to kill them and he was afraid they would enter his body as well. Germann testified that Martinez said her son suffered physiological delusions,would see people; and this wasn't the first episode.

At the conclusion of the preliminary hearing, Cox said he was ordering the jail to schedule a mental health review (QMHP) by Comprehend. Cox determined probable cause had been established, which forwarded the case to a grand jury.  Cox noted on the district court docket his instructions to transfer to grand jury; no bond reduction; and jail ordered to contact Comprehend for psch (QMHP) consult with defendant.

Department of Public Advocacy Attorney Crystal Ball, Suesz's attorney, asked the judge for a bond review in the case and informed the court Suesz could stay with an aunt if he were to be released. According to the audio recording, Cox said he wanted the evaluation done first before conducting a bond review or releasing Suesz to the aunt.

The case went before a grand jury on Jan. 25.  The grand jury issued a No True Bill in the case, because the "grand jury has not found sufficient evidence to return an indictment, on the charges of unlawful imprisonment 1st."

What happened next in the case has raised questions about procedures to release an inmate after a No True Bill is issued. According to Circuit Clerk Kirk Tolle, DPA Executive Director Amanda Mullins, Commonwealth's Attorney Kelly Clarke and Circuit Judge Stockton B. Wood, No True Bill happen very rarely.  Tolle conducted a search and found only three had been issued in the last five years.

There is also a question as to of the mental health evaluation was conducted.  According to records secured from MCDC under an open records request, a Court Tracking Sheet dated Dec. 19 was included in Suesz's file, noting Comprehend was to be contacted by the jail for the review. 

When contacted Wednesday to confirm the evaluation was requested by MCDC, Dr. Pamela Vaught, executive director of Comprehend Inc. in Maysville, said records showed no evidence the court or jail ordered a psychological evaluation.

"We have no indication of receiving a request," Vaught said.

Suesz's mental state could have factored into his release being overlooked, because he didn't realize he was no longer being charged, if according to his mother's statement in court he had psychological delusions in the past.  The question was asked if his mother could or did ask for his release, but no conclusive answer could be given by officials or offered on the record as to why an inquiry wasn't made by Martinez.

The incarceration of Suesz for 65 additional days came to light Sunday, March 31, when, according to Jailer Gerald Curtis, "someone called the jail" asking about Suesz's bond.  Curtis was asked Tuesday about the situation.  Curtis said Sgt. David Abner took the call and in turn, checked the judicial system's Court Net site and found the notation in Suesz's case that a No True Bill was issued in January.  According to Curtis, Abner contacted a pretrial officer about the situation, who then authorized Suesz's release.  Curtis said he didn't know who the "someone" was that inquired about the bond.

Curtis said he was unaware the grand jury had issued the No True Bill, and said the matter was being looked into.  When pressed about the procedure to release an inmate in this situation, Curtis said he relied upon the circuit clerk's office to fax a copy of the No True Bill to the jail and said "we did not get a document ... if we had we would have released him."

"We were not given anything to say that a No True Bill had been issued until Sunday and he was released.  It is what it is," Curtis said.

Tolle said his office followed proper procedures in regard to filing paper work associated with the case and the issuance of a No True Bill doesn't automatically release an inmate.  Tolle pointed out after searching the number of No True Bills previously issued, two of the three defendants in those cases were released immediately, following a judge's order.  The orders were noted by the presiding judges in the cases on court documents provided by Tolle. However, there is no notation on the document as to who requested the judge to issue the release.  The third defendant remained in jail because other charges were still pending in the case. 

“Our office followed the complete and proper procedure as required of us according to the state laws and the same procedure we have always followed in these types of cases. We are certainly willing to do whatever it takes to make sure this same situation doesn’t happen again," Tolle said in a statement Thursday.

Tolle's office faxed a copy of the No True Bill to MCDC on Monday, April 1, around 8:24 a.m., after a request was made by the jail to have the document faxed, Tolle said.

Wood was interviewed Wednesday and said he thought an order to release would need to be filed in such an instance.  Acknowledging that No True Bill situations are rare, he said he would think the defendant's attorney would be the one to ask for the inmate's release if there were no other charges pending in the case.

"Whoever wants him out or thinks he should be out should enter a release," Wood said.

As executive director of the DPA, Mullins said she also thought when a No True Bill was issued, it was the Circuit Clerk's office who notified the jail to release a defendant.  However, Mullins noted most inmates would have been on the phone with their attorney to find out why they were still in jail.  But in this instance, when a defendant has exhibited mental instability, that didn't happen.

"The assumption was made that a No True Bill equals release, it was the wrong assumption to make. Everybody has responsibility in it, including myself and my attorneys.  There's multiple people who have a hand in it, one of those is our office. I wish I had a good answer as to why he was in jail when he should not have been. It won't happen again," Mullins said.

County Attorney John Estill was also contacted, as legal counsel for MCDC and Curtis. He provided the following statement Thursday.

"I was made aware on March 30, 2013, that Travis Suesz was an inmate at the Mason County Detention Center after the grand jury on Jan. 25, 2013, returned a “no true bill” on charges identified as Case No. 12-F-230. After confirming that no charges remained or other holders were outstanding which would authorize further detention of Mr. Suesz, I advised that Mr. Suesz should be immediately released. I am investigating this matter to determine the cause for the continued detention of Mr. Suesz, both in my role as prosecutor and as legal counsel to the Fiscal Court. The incarceration of offenders is necessary, but my office must always weigh infringements to individual freedom and the burden to the taxpayer in recommending incarceration. The same rule of law would require that a person only be held as authorized and ordered by a Court with jurisdiction of a matter."

Mullins attempted to reach Suesz and/or his mother Thursday morning for comment on the situation.  The telephone number(s) provided to his DPA attorney, Ball, were no longer working numbers.

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