EDITORIAL: A man died because no one used a telephone

July 23, 2013 

SPECIAL TO THE BEE

Example A of why citizens get so frustrated with government is Levon Walter McDaniel.

He was arrested multiple times for serious crimes over the past eight months and still walked free from Fresno County Jail on July 6.

It is alleged that on July 17, while fleeing Fresno police in a stolen car, McDaniel ran a stop sign at Marks and North avenues and killed Ernest Grant.

According to police accounts, McDaniel is responsible for Grant's death.

But Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims, who is responsible for running the jail, needs to take a hard look at operations there and how her staff cooperates with neighboring counties.

The reason that McDaniel -- wanted in Madera County on a $100,000 stolen vehicle warrant -- left Fresno County jail a free man is because no one there bothered to pick up a telephone.

As explained in a news release issued by the Sheriff's Office, sheriff's personnel told the Madera Department of Corrections via the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System teletype on July 1 that McDaniel "needed to be picked up from the jail by July 6th at 6:00 p.m." otherwise he would be back on the streets.

When no one from Madera showed, Fresno County kicked McDaniel loose and, according to the Sheriff's Office release, "at 6:50 p.m., another teletype was sent by the Sheriff's Office to the Madera Department of Corrections advising them that McDaniel had been released from custody."

In other words, Fresno County washed its hands of a dangerous man and then covered its backside by clicking a few words into a machine.

Sometime between July 2 and July 6, when there was no response from Madera Department of Corrections, someone at the jail should have called Madera officials to ask whether they wanted McDaniel because Fresno hadn't heard back.

A phone call of 60 seconds could have been the phone call that saved Grant's life.

The last paragraph of the news release states: "All actions taken by the Sheriff's Office regarding McDaniel were done so pursuant to policy, procedure, and law."

The law is the law. And Mims faces a big challenge in complying with the demands of long-standing federal consent decree requiring early releases when the jail reaches capacity (although this wasn't the reason McDaniel was released).

But policy and procedure are determined by one person -- Mims. It's time for the sheriff to stop saying that her jail can't be run any other way than the way she runs it.

Manuel Perez, chief of the Madera Department of Corrections, said Tuesday that he is testing the CLETS teletype on his end and continuing to investigate why his staff didn't receive the advisory on McDaniel.

He also says that he wants Mims to know that he will house everyone with a Madera warrant who is eligible for release from Fresno County jail.

Would it be too much for officials in both counties to use a telephone?

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