A 32-year-old Washington man spent an extra two weeks in jail after a deputy U.S. marshal at D.C. Superior Court signed an order as a court clerk, committing the man indefinitely.
Mance Johnson was ordered released Feb. 20 by Chief Judge H. Carl Moultrie I, but instead was taken to the D.C. Jail and held until he wrote the superintendent a letter saying he wasn't supposed to be there. Jail officials checked records and discovered Johnson was being held for no reason.
U.S. Marshal Herbert Rutherford said yesterday that the deputy signed the order when Johnson was left in the court cell block without instructions about what was to be done with him.
"That's false imprisonment," said Johnson's attorney, Dennis O'Conner.
Jail officials said they never received the court's release order and instead were given a commitment order signed by Deputy Marshal Floyd White.
The order White signed did not state a case number or a pending court matter that would have warranted holding Johnson, and it was unclear whether court staff ever gave deputy marshals the original release order.
"Something improper had to have happened somewhere," said court executive Larry Polansky. "It was not standard procedure, and someone let something through that they should not have let through. Who? I don't know."
Rutherford said disciplinary action is pending against White, a 10-year department member regarded around the courthouse as one of the more capable deputies.
"It was an error in judgment, a bad decision on his part," Rutherford said. "It was late in the evening, and when we didn't have the paperwork, [White] made the decision to send [Johnson] back to the jail, not knowing what else to do with him."
"We cannot condone his actions, and he certainly will be disciplined for it," Rutherford said. He said White would not be permitted to discuss the incident.
Johnson, who has no prior convictions here, according to court records, was first arrested Jan. 24 and held on $3,000 bond as a fugitive from Media, Pa., where he was charged with burglary.
Johnson remained in jail until Feb. 20, when he appeared before Judge Moultrie for an extradition hearing. Moultrie ordered Johnson released because the court had not received the extradition papers from Pennsylvania.
Johnson was taken to the court's cell block, where deputy marshals held him into the evening because no paperwork was received, said Chief Deputy Marshal Ronald Hein.
That evening, Hein said, Deputy White realized he had no papers on Johnson and "went upstairs" to get a court order form that would justify returning Johnson to jail.
White "should have called the judge that evening to get a decision" about what to do with Johnson, Marshal Rutherford said. "That deputy was aware of the procedure and did not follow it."
Corrections department spokesman Leroy Anderson said jail officials who received the order signed by White "are only concerned about whether an order is an order. They don't care whether all the i's are dotted and the t's crossed."
John Cruse, chief of jail records, said that when he learned of Johnson's complaint two weeks later, he called the court and "they said he was released. I said, 'Don't you think one copy [of a release order] should come to the jail?' They sent it over and he was released" March 6.
"The question I have is, why didn't he [Johnson] say something sooner so we could have done something about it?" Cruse said.