Fort Lauderdale, FL – Broward County sheriff’s department officials and the State’s Attorney’s Office are pointing the blame at each other even as deputies scramble to capture a murder suspect that was mistakenly released from jail on Thursday.
Eric Vail is accused of having fired his AR-15 rifle at Chevrolet pickup truck and killed its driver in October of 2018, according to the Sun Sentinel.
Vail, 28, had been in custody, held without bond, since January for the murder of Wadarius Harris, WPLG reported.
Prosecutors said Vail was riding with an accomplice in a Nissan Altima on Southwest 52nd Avenue in Pembroke Park when they pulled up alongside Harris in his truck and Vail opened fire.
Harris was killed instantly, but his pickup truck also crashed and flipped over, the Sun Sentinel reported.
He was indicted for first-degree murder by a grand jury in April, despite having initially been charged with second-degree murder.
The original charge was dismissed on Thursday because it was replaced by the first-degree murder charge, the Sun Sentinel reported.
But somewhere the wires got crossed and the Broward Sheriff’s Office (BSO) was notified the charges were dismissed but not about the new charge, so they released the accused murderer.
“On Thursday, the Broward Sheriff's Office received unequivocal direction from the state attorney's office that the second-degree murder charge on Eric Vail had been dismissed," BSO Spokeswoman Keyla Concepcion told WPLG in a statement. "We did not have and have not yet located any documentation stating the subject was to be held on another charge. Our main priority at this time is to locate and apprehend this dangerous criminal."
But the Broward County State’s Attorney’s Office spokeswoman said she was "confident that the State Attorney's Office correctly followed all procedures and provided the relevant paperwork through the proper channels."
"The second-degree murder charge was initially filed on Jan. 29," the state’s attorney’s spokeswoman, Paula McMahon, told WPLG. "The grand jury subsequently indicted the defendant on the first-degree murder charge on April 3. The defendant was arraigned on the more serious charge on April 9. The defendant was taken to court by the sheriff's office on the first-degree murder charge on Thursday, so it's hard to know how the sheriff's office didn't know about the first-degree murder charge."
But Conception said deputies are only responsible for transporting the inmates to and from the court, not deciding who gets released.
“It is the responsibility of the Broward County Clerk of Courts to distribute official documentation between all the essential parties about court proceedings, to include communications involving inmates in custody,” Concepcion said, according to the Sun Sentinel. “On Thursday, the Broward Sheriff’s Office was notified that the second-degree murder charge on Eric Vail had been dismissed. At the time Vail was scheduled for release, the jail had not received any documentation from the Clerk of Courts stating the subject was to remain in custody to face another charge.”
The clerk’s office said it was investigating what might have gone wrong.
The public defender representing Vail said that he hadn’t heard from his client and no idea where his client might have gone after he escaped.
“Something appears to have gone wrong here. Very wrong,” Public Defender Howard Finkelstein told the Sun Sentinel. "All I can tell you is he’s not supposed to be out. We have not heard from the client. We have no idea [where he is].”
Finkelstein said that if Vail got in touch with his office, they would tell him to surrender.
The Sheriff’s Office has asked that anyone who knows anything about Vail’s whereabouts contact Broward Crime Stoppers at 954-493-TIPS (8477).