Catch and Release

Kanawha County officials are conducting an investigation to learn how a man who was arrested for attempting to kidnap a baby from its stroller was allowed to walk out of jail last week.

Charleston police officers were able to find Jeremy Carter, 33, four days after he was inadvertently freed when Kanawha County Circuit Judge Carrie Webster signed a dismissal order.

In most counties, dismissal orders are prepared by the prosecutor’s office and then submitted to a judge for action. In this case, Webster acted on her own. “We process those documents on a daily basis,” Kanawha Circuit Clerk Cathy Gatson said. “In this specific case, it is my understanding that Judge Webster was attempting to clear cases from her docket and prepared the order exclusive of the prosecutor’s office.”

Webster originally took the blame. However, she has since backtracked on that and blamed the Kanawha County Circuit Clerk’s office for the release, and now both are pointing fingers at each other. However, it appears as though Webster in her haste to clear her docket became careless with her paperwork. In addition to freeing Clark, she also signed a release for a man who last year was sentenced to 25 years in prison after being convicted of kidnapping, robbing and severely beating a senior citizen. This mistake was caught before the man was released.

This should not be allowed to happen. A potentially dangerous man was allowed to walk out of jail while another who had already been convicted of a violent crime was almost freed. We hope an investigation into this incident will reveal what happened with measures taken to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

This is bigger than just Kanawha County. A lesson should be learned here for all counties because jails are overcrowded and the trend is toward alternate sentencing for inmates who are not deemed violent.

The circuit clerk, the prosecutor and the judge must be on the same page to ensure a violent person is not inadvertently freed.