DOC director cites 'human error'

ADMINISTRATORS: The Department of Corrections administrators appeared in front of a legislative oversight hearing in the Guam Legislature on Wednesday evening. The hearing followed the erroneous release of certain detainees and allegations that indicted Yona Mayor Jesse Mendiola Blas used his prison connections to have certain detainees released. From left, Director Samatha Brennan, acting Deputy Director Capt. Joe Carbullido, Warden Alan Borja and Maj. Antone Aguon. Norman M. Taruc/The Guam Daily Post

The head of the prison said she has not been made aware of any of the allegations made by the FBI against her corrections officers, or former Deputy Director Joey Terlaje.

Terlaje, who was implicated by the FBI in connection to the federal extortion and bribery case against Yona Mayor Jesse M. Blas, recently resigned from his job at the Department of Corrections.

"It was very sad,” DOC Director Samantha Brennan said. She was speaking with The Guam Daily Post before her department's legislative oversight hearing Wednesday night. “At this point, there are things that are going on that I am unaware of, and there is really not much that I can say to that. But I just have to move forward with DOC and continuing to do my very best.”

The FBI special agent on the mayor's case also testified that bribes were made in exchange for releasing inmates at DOC.

GPD's Joe Carbullido will remain acting DOC deputy. There was no word Wednesday night about when he would return to the police department.

Senators steered clear of the FBI allegations during the oversight hearing.

‘Environment prone to human error’

The erroneous release of detainees and inmates topped the discussion during the hearing at the Guam Congress Building in Hagåtña last night.

"We operate in a human environment prone to human error,” Brennan told the public safety committee. “DOC isn't perfect, but we recognize our problems and willing to work together to fix it.”

The hearing was called by Vice Speaker Telena Nelson who was given temporary authority to hold oversight hearings for the legislative public safety committee.

Sens. Therese Terlaje, James Moylan, Amanda Shelton and Speaker Tina Muña Barnes also attended the hearing.

The prison director said there were four erroneous releases from the prison this year.

She said the first two occurred in April.

In the first one, a commitment order had been mistaken for a release order, she said.

In the second incident, officers had released a detainee because they’d overlooked another case for which he was being held.

"It was more than one person’s error, and those issues have been resolved," Brennan said.

She said the same senior officer – the platoon commander – who worked both those shifts, along with the other corrections officers involved, had been reprimanded for the mistakes.

"Were the same mistakes made each time?" Nelson asked.

"Yes, ma'am," said Brennan, admitting it was an "oversight on the part of the officers."

"It was an oversight on the officer not paying attention to detail and missing it,” said DOC operations commander Maj. Antone Aguon. “It just happens.”

He said the platoon commander had been unable to access the prison records system, and had simply signed the release order.

Nelson said she is surprised the prison hasn't looked into how many releases the specific platoon commander approved as part of its investigation.

Aguon said the former deputy director – Joey Terlaje – had recommended the letter of reprimand for the first two erroneous releases.

"Was there a reason given by the deputy director to give this reprimand and not an adverse action?" Nelson asked.

Brennan said the documents regarding the reprimand were later found inside the former deputy director's office and brought to her attention.

"I did get a copy of the memo but it was after the fact that I received it," she said. "I want to say four to six weeks after the fact." She said the 60-day time frame to take additional adverse action had passed.

More erroneous releases; missing documents

The director also spoke of two erroneous releases in September.

She told the senators that the investigations of those incidents are ongoing and she was unable to elaborate on them.

"This community has a right to feel safe. And that can't happen if prisoners are erroneously released," Brennan said. "Prior to this administration, I could not find no historical data of erroneous releases. However, I did find two (Guam Daily Post) stories of two erroneous releases last year."

Prison leaders could not say what happened to files documenting erroneous releases in the time before the current administration.

"Where are the records of the erroneous releases in 2018?" Nelson asked.

"They should be in the file cabinets in internal affairs," Aguon said.

Brennan said she would determine whether those files exist at DOC.

Training officers

Brennan said DOC now allows officers real-time access to inmate files. She said training was conducted with the Judiciary of Guam to provide the necessary checklists.

DOC is again using the Virtual Criminal Crime History system during the release process. Its use only resumed at the end of August, Maj. Aguon said.

He said that, for a long time, the system kept going down and was inaccessible from the processing center in Hagåtña.

"We probably couldn't access it for more than two years," Aguon said. "It's just another tool we use, but we still have to rely on our database, opening the file and looking at the inmate's folder. It's just not a perfect system."

He said the system was down during the first two erroneous releases reported this year. He said that DOC worked with the Judiciary to get it back online.

Nelson asked the prison leadership to explain the steps of the release process, and to provide a timeline of what happened in the first two erroneous releases earlier this year.

The two incidents in April happened about a week apart.

Brennan said she was told of each erroneous release before the respective detainee was taken back into custody.

Aguon said that, since the incidents, corrections officers have undergone more training.

To put things in context, Brennan also mentioned, among other similar incidents in the U.S., the erroneous releases of 3,000 inmates in Washington state reported over a 12-year period.

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