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Sheriff’s computer crash leaves defendants who should have been released stuck in L.A. County jail

A person behind bars
A man stands behind bars inside Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
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The computer system at Los Angeles County’s largest jail crashed over the weekend, causing an unknown number of people to be kept behind bars for days longer than they should have been.

When the Sheriff’s Department’s jail information management system went offline at Men’s Central Jail in downtown L.A. sometime Saturday, staff were forced to process inmates for release by hand, according to Capt. Lorena Rodriguez, the department’s chief spokeswoman.

Rodriguez said the system did not come back online until late Monday.

The outage was caused by a manhole fire, according to an internal e-mail reviewed by The Times.

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On average, Men’s Central Jail houses roughly 4,500 people, most of them either awaiting trial or in custody for misdemeanors. Rodriguez did not provide an estimate of how many people who should have been released from the jail were kept locked up because of the shutdown.

Rodriguez said releases were “only delayed,” not halted outright. The Times spoke to several attorneys and relatives of people being held in the jail, who said their clients or loved ones were still in custody Monday night, even if they had been ordered released Friday.

“There is absolutely no legal authority for them to hold my client, so this is an over-detention and a violation of my client’s constitutional rights,” said defense attorney Alexandra Kazarian, who had a client in custody for assault who had been ordered released Friday.

To make matters worse, Kazarian said, the confusion caused by the system failure led a judge to issue a bench warrant for her client’s arrest when he missed a Monday court hearing.

A bail agent who spoke to The Times on the condition of anonymity said he had at least a dozen clients who should have been released on bond Friday, but remained in custody Monday night.

Adriana Mercado said her brother, Daniel, was arrested late last week on suspicion of identity theft. Although she sought to have him released on bond, jail records show he was ordered released on his own recognizance. But as Friday rolled over into Saturday, she still hadn’t heard from him.

Mercado, a Torrance resident, said she drove to Men’s Central Jail on Saturday afternoon. First, she was told her brother had been released. Hours later, a different deputy working at the jail told her that he was in the Inmate Reception Center, where people are processed to be housed in the jail, released or taken to and from court appearances.

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Mercado said her brother is a manager at a Ralph’s grocery branch and she fears he will lose his job if he misses work. The runaround she got from the various deputies over the weekend left her increasingly panicked.

“My concern is we haven’t spoken to him at all. He hasn’t called anyone. If he’s supposed to be out on the 19th, he should have been out,” she said. “I’m terrified that I haven’t heard from him.”

Ty Anis, a defense attorney representing Mercado’s brother, said the Sheriff’s Department’s failure to have a backup plan in the event of a system crash was tantamount to an illegal detention.

“It’s kind of unacceptable for a computer system to just be down for several days,” Anis said. “I think the tack they’re taking is, ‘We want to make sure we don’t release anybody in error.’ As a result, they are keeping a lot of people in custody in error.”

Kazarian said the Sheriff’s Department should expect lawsuits.

“Every single day they are over-detained, they are owed money,” she said. “I 100% expect there to be a representative of the county going through the jail saying: ‘Oh my God, I am so sorry you have been here. I will write you a check.’”

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