Sheriff: Two Deputies Responsible for Inmate Release

May 29, 2012 Updated May 29, 2012 at 6:13 PM EDT

By Allen Leight

May 29, 2012 Updated May 29, 2012 at 6:13 PM EDT

BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) - Erie County Sheriff Timothy Howard was on the hot seat Tuesday, appearing before a county legislative committee to answer questions about a number of recent cases where inmates were mistakenly released from custody.

Howard told legislators that the most recent case, where 25-year-old Paris Williams was accidentally released instead of 26-year-old James Williams, was because two deputies failed to follow protocol and check the inmate's I.D bracelet.

"[I am] absolutely confident that no one looked at this individuals bracelet and saw that his name was Paris and not the other Williams that should have been called," said Howard.

He went on say that a lack of staff, specifically supervisors, contributed to mishap, citing overtime and extra duties that prevent supervisors from ensuring deputies are following proper protocol.

"If you don't have enough supervisors, some employees, not our best, will stop doing their work because no one is there to make them do it," said Howard after the hearing.

Legislative Chair Betty Jean Grant, however, challenged whether staffing played a role in the recent inmate release.

"25 supervisors sitting there would not have prevented that deputy, or whoever it was, from not reading that name badge to see if the right person was being released," she said to Sheriff Howard.

The Sheriff responded asking, "Then why is this management?"

Howard is referring to recent comments from the office of Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz that said the latest case was not an issue of staffing, but rather an issue of management.

"Maybe that's not what you're saying," Howard replied to Grant, "but that's what others are saying, that this is a management problem."

The most recent case aside, all do agree that staffing withing the sheriff's office is an issue that needs to be addressed.

In September of 2011, when still county comptroller, Poloncarz called for the hiring of an additional 67 deputies and officers as a way to reduce overtime costs and increase officer and inmate safety.

Earlier this month, the county and sheriff's office agreed to a staffing plan that calls for 72 additional sheriff staff, which includes a nearly 50-percent increase to supervisors by 2015.

New York State has mandated the county increase staffing at the department, however the specific plan submitted by the county has yet to receive final approval.

Another issue that staffing affects, according to Howard, is discipline.

When deputies are disciplined for actions, similar to the actions that are believed to have led to the mistaken release of Paris Williams, the monetary loss to the officer(s) in question is easily made up by working much need overtime, which cannot be avoided due to staff shortages.

It's an issue that the sheriff says dramatically lessens the sting of any disciplinary action, thus acting as less of a deterrent.

County Executive Mark Poloncarz was not immediately available to comment on this story.