Berkeley County deputies search for inmate mistakenly released from jail
A paperwork slip-up allowed a female inmate to walk out of the Berkeley County jail just a week after a judge ruled that she couldn’t be trusted to remain free while awaiting trial on various charges, authorities said.
Neely Blanchard, 26, reportedly strolled out of the Hill-Finklea Detention Center on Wednesday and sheriff’s deputies have been unable to locate her since. She remained at large late Friday.
Blanchard is awaiting trial on charges that she tried to drive off with her 4-year-old daughter without permission from Westview Primary School in Goose Creek in May. Blanchard, also charged with drug possession in the incident, does not have legal custody of the child. Custody belongs to the child’s paternal grandmother, according to police.
Blanchard, who has given addresses in Florida and Kentucky, had been free on $75,000 bail until Nov. 18, when a judge revoked her bond for violating the conditions of her release, court documents show.
The order revoking her bond, however, was never placed in her file at the jail and she was inadvertently released, Sheriff’s Capt. Rick Ollic said.
The mix-up was an error on the detention center’s part and an internal investigation is being conducted, Ollic said. He said the sheriff’s office is taking the mix-up very seriously.
“As soon as we get to the bottom of this, appropriate disciplinary action will be taken,” Ollic said.
He said deputies are doing everything they can to locate Blanchard. He wouldn’t speculate on where she might have gone after leaving the jail.
Attorney Laree Hensley, who represents the grandmother who has custody of the child, said prosecutors notified her of the mistaken release Wednesday afternoon. Police are keeping “a strong presence” around her client’s home, but the child, now 5, remains safe, she said.
“We feel confident Capt. Ollic is doing everything he can do,” she said. “But my client is terrified.”
State troopers stopped Blanchard in May as she was heading west on Interstate 26 with her daughter and another woman in a black convertible. Blanchard and Ferdauss Rahmatullah, 25, of Jacksonville, Fla., had taken the child from Westview school before classes began, police said. A school employee who tried to stop their car was injured in the process, according to police.
Rahmatullah was accused of causing those injuries and was charged with first-degree assault and battery as well as trespassing, disturbing school and conspiracy to commit custodial interference.
Blanchard, was charged with trespassing, disturbing school, custodial interference, conspiracy to commit custodial interference and unlawful possession of Schedule IV narcotics. Police said they found Blanchard with prescription pills and that she had them illegally.
Blanchard remained in jail until July, when her mother put up money to secure her release on $75,000 bail. As conditions of her release, she was required to have no contact with the child’s paternal grandmother and her family, to turn over the child’s passport and immunization records, and to notify the court if she moved from the Florida home where she said she was living with her mother, documents shows.
Blanchard reportedly left her mother’s St. Augustine home in October after a confrontation that led to St. Johns County (Fla.) investigators seeking warrants for her arrest on domestic battery and false imprisonment charges.
Her mother, Susan Blanchard, told deputies her daughter struck her in the head with a suitcase, slammed her skull against the floor and refused to let her leave the house during an Oct. 7 argument, according to an incident report. Neely Blanchard’s sister witnessed part of the alleged assault, deputies said.
Blanchard’s family told deputies she drove off for Kentucky after the altercation in a mini-van, with her twin 1-year-old daughters in tow, a police report stated.
The 9th Circuit Solicitor’s Office informed the court this month that Blanchard had moved to Pennsylvania without telling authorities and had tried to circumvent the court order regarding her daughter’s immunization records, court papers show.
Authorities also accused Blanchard of giving a friend in Goose Creek 20 Xanex pills in return for the friend calling 911 on Nov. 12 and reporting that Blanchard’s daughter was being abused at her grandmother’s home. The call resulted in deputies being sent to the home at 5:30 a.m. to check on the girl, authorities said.
The friend and his girlfriend later gave sworn statements implicating Blanchard, who was charged by Berkeley County deputies with filing a false police report, court documents show. They also provided a copy of a script she allegedly wrote for the friend to follow while making the 911 call, those documents state.
Circuit Judge Stephanie McDonald revoked Blanchard’s bond last week and sent her back to jail. But the paperwork mix-up soon set her free, authorities said.
The mix-up isn’t the first at Berkeley County’s Hill-Finklea Detention Center.
In January 2012, James Sanders escaped from the jail when officials failed to read his file in full before clearing him for release.
Sanders had been sentenced to time served for violating a protective order, but was not eligible for release because of a pending domestic violence charge.
Sanders was captured in March 2012 after hiding at a Myrtle Beach hospital while pretending to be a coma patient’s relative, and later stealing a woman’s wallet at a nightclub.
In February, a judge sentenced Sanders to five years in prison on an escape charge, minus the year and a half he’d already spent in jail.
Other area jails also have had issues from time to time,
In June, improper paperwork was blamed for an inmate’s early release from the Al Cannon Detention Center in Charleston County. Mary Frasier who had received a 30-day sentence for unlawful use of a cellphone was quickly located and placed back in custody after the error was discovered, authorities said.
One month earlier, inmate Sean DeLeon Doctor, 28, posted $250,000 bail and was allowed to leave the Charleston County jail, but he was not eligible for release. Deputies got him back in custody six days later after tracking him to a North Charleston apartment.
Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556 or Twitter.com/glennsmith5.