Maryland: 'Data-entry issue' led to mistaken release of Bucks murder suspect

The state of Maryland is taking responsibility for a "data-entry issue" that caused a Baltimore jail last week to release a Bucks County murder suspect.

The state's central booking office had failed to enter all of the necessary paperwork into an internal computer system that said Dale Wakefield Jr. was wanted for murder in Pennsylvania as well as for a parole violation. The unfiled paperwork was crucial to keeping Wakefield in jail while Maryland authorities began the somewhat complicated process of releasing him to another state’s custody, officials said.

Wakefield allegedly stabbed and beat a homeless man in Doylestown earlier this month before fleeing to Baltimore, where his sister attends college. Baltimore police arrested him and placed him in a city jail, which mistakenly released him days later. Police picked him up after about four hours of freedom.

"Complications arose due to the nature of out-of-state warrants and detainers," said Erin Julius, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Corrections. "The department is evaluating its processes and expects to take appropriate disciplinary actions in light of the error."

Wakefield had chosen not to fight extradition back to Pennsylvania. But his return to Bucks County still required passing through some red tape.

Baltimore Police Sgt. Eric Kowalczyk explained that after Wakefield's arrest, authorities in Pennsylvania had filed two requests to Maryland officials to keep him in custody. One request was from the Bucks County District Attorney's office regarding the murder charges. Another was from Bucks County Adult Probation and Parole for a parole violation. Wakefield was released from a Pennsylvania jail earlier this after shooting his mother with a BB gun.

In an effort to speed up Wakefield's return to Pennsylvania to face murder charges, Kowalczyk said Baltimore police asked a district judge to dismiss the probation and parole office's request to hold Wakefield, a standard procedure in such situations.

The problem was that Bucks County's request to hold him on a parole violation had not been filed into the jail’s internal computer system, according to Julius of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Corrections.

“Only the murder detainer was in the system,” Julius explained. “No one checked the numbers and the murder detainer was lifted.”  

Bucks County District Attorney David Heckler said he accepts the fact Maryland made a mistake. But he said he still takes issue with the Baltimore jail's lack of cooperation when Wakefield was mistakenly released.

Heckler said employees at the jail were of no help to a Bucks County detective who was trying to return Wakefield to custody after her learned of Wakefield’s release from Wakefield's sister. The Bucks County detective had to call a counterpart in Baltimore.

"Plainly they don't operate very well," Heckler said. "Everyone involved with Bucks County did everything right. And thank God for Baltimore police responding to our detective. We were very concerned there could have been a serious crime in their jurisdiction. This isn't about us. I care about what could have happened."