Lubbock County Sheriff says accidental inmate release was 'avoidable'

Published: Jul. 2, 2015 at 3:08 AM CDT|Updated: Dec. 31, 2015 at 4:30 AM CST
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Ernest Zavala was released from the Lubbock County Detention Center last week.
Ernest Zavala was released from the Lubbock County Detention Center last week.

LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - The Lubbock County Sheriff's Office answered questions on Wednesday after mistakenly releasing a federal inmate last week.

33-year-old Ernest Zavala was "erroneously released" from the Lubbock County Detention Center last Tuesday. Then he was found and apprehended in Hobbs, NM on Sunday.

Sheriff Kelly Rowe says the process to hold federal inmates like Zavala in custody is fairly simple, and ultimately, State Marshals end up being responsible for them as they go through the criminal justice process; but Rowe says the circumstances that led to Zavala's release were "unique and highly abnormal."

"This was a terrible situation and this was avoidable and it shouldn't have happened," Rowe said.

Zavala was under a remand from the Marshal's Service. When that came to an end, Marshals placed a detainer on him in order to keep him in custody.

Rowe says Zavala's release was triggered after they were notified of the dismissal of his state and local charges, including a parole violation. Rowe says staff members handling his release experienced more confusion when they received an additional set of paperwork from the Marshals Service, and overlooked the detainer in Zavala's file.

"That thing came in on this guy and a different staff member picked it up," Rowe said. "He handled it appropriately, but he wasn't aware of the fact that the other staff member didn't include [the detainer] back in the inmate's permanent file."

Rowe expects disciplinary action to eventually take place and says the Sheriff's Office already has an action plan in mind to prevent an incident like this from happening again.

"We've got some additional supervisory training put in place and a more concentrated effort on the booking process aspect, particularly with regard to supervisors who are tasked with those responsibilities with being the ultimate gatekeeper," Rowe said.

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