The Alexandria Sheriff's Department, in violation of a court order, returned to Florida a man wanted there on felony charges, according to the Alexandria commonwealth's attorney and the man's attorney, who discovered his absence yesterday.
At an appearance in Alexandria General District Court on May 30, Benjamin Henry Jr. was granted 10 days to file a petition to block his extradition to Broward County, Fla., where he faces charges of robbery, kidnaping and aggravated battery, the prosecutor's office reported.
But yesterday, when Richard Epps, the Alexandria lawyer representing Henry, attempted to get his signature on the petition, he found that Henry was gone.
"I was completely shocked," said Epps. "Nobody knew a thing. They just shipped him out of here without a word to anybody. I am going to have to file a note to the court saying he has been extradited illegally."
Epps said three Alexandria deputies were in court on May 30 when General District Court Judge Robert Colby agreed to postpone the extradition.
Alexandria Sheriff James H. Dunning, who was informed of the incident late yesterday afternoon, said that while he "didn't have any reason to believe this person wasn't" given 10 days' stay, "we record no written notice of any stay."
"My deputies are not courtroom clerks," said Dunning. "If an order or instruction was given, it should have been given in writing."
The sheriff's department has been involved in two other publicized incidents with prisoners this year. In one, a deputy forgot about a woman who had been sentenced to three hours in jail, leaving her locked in a tiny cell for the weekend. In another, a man wanted in Maryland on a fugitive warrant escaped from the Alexandria courthouse while wearing leg irons.
Both Dunning and Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Randolph Sengel said they would investigate returning Henry. Sengel said Florida authorities had been contacted, and that "they are considering what steps they should take."
Attempts to reach Florida officials were unsuccessful yesterday evening, but Sengel said that in order to protect their case against Henry from accusations of violating a prisoner's rights, Henry might be returned to Alexandria.
Henry, of 203 Tennessee Ave. in Alexandria, had spent several months working in Florida for the courier service Emery Worldwide, according to his father, but returned home in February.
Shortly afterward, he was arrested by Alexandria police acting on information sent to them by police in Florida. He has denied any wrongdoing and his attorney said that although he has repeatedly asked the state of Virginia for information on the case, none has been provided.
According to the sheriff's department, Henry was held in the city jail until March 16, when he posted $5,000 bond. He was incarcerated again after his court appearance on May 30.
Dunning said Florida authorities took custody of Henry on June 3, and he was taken immediately to Florida.