St. Clair County Sheriff Mearl Justice is a straight shooter. I've always liked him, and his name.
The Sheriff's Department is in charge of running the county jail in Belleville. Yesterday, Elijah Muhammad claimed to be a different inmate and was released by mistake. A series of blunders allowed Muhammad to go free.
1. None of the inmates kept in the holding cell, which included Muhammad, wear any ID.
2. The officer who checked out Muhammad didn't compare him to a photo in the jail computer system.
3. When the staff realized Muhammad was gone, they didn't activate the siren.
Inmates have escaped or been released by mistake before, but Sheriff Justice admitted that he's never had a prisoner like Muhammad get out. Muhammad was being held on $400,000 bond, a huge amount reflecting the serious crimes he faces. Muhammad is charged with home invasion and aggravated battery for firing a shot inside a woman's home.
If Muhammad was on the run in my neighborhood I'd want to know as soon as possible, which means I'd want that siren turned on. But the jail staff didn't activate it, even though it took at least ten minutes to determine he had left the immediate area. The Sheriff did notify the media fairly quickly, but many residents living near the jail felt like the siren should have been used to warn them.
It may have seemed like overkill to some officers at the time, but Muhammad is accused of a serious charge with a gun. Now he's on the run, and police can't find him. The Sheriff's Department should have fired up the old siren, even if the straight shooter doesn't think so.
The Sheriff is strongly considering a change in jail policy. He may require all inmates, even those in the holding cell to wear a jail ID bracelet with a photo. I think that's a great idea. It will cost a little more money and create a slower discharge process, but it would have prevented Muhammad's escape.
We'll keep you posted on the search for Muhammad.