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Man released in error after court hearing; Sheriff blames paperwork mix-up

An Erie County sheriff's deputy Saturday mistakenly released a Buffalo man who should have been sent back to the Holding Center after a court appearance, the Sheriff's Office confirmed Monday.

Donovan Devost, 19, had yet to be arraigned in Alden Town Court for missing a March court date when the deputy let him walk out of Buffalo City Court.

Officials investigating the incident believe a paperwork mix-up and a deputy's failure to call the jail to double-check that Devost wasn't due back in court led to his premature release.

"It appears at this point as though people did not follow our operating procedure," said Robert Koch, Holding Center superintendent.

Two days after his mistaken release, Devost was picked up Monday afternoon when the Sheriff's Office located him with the help of his family. He was taken to Alden Town Court and was scheduled to be arraigned for failing to appear in March on a misdemeanor criminal mischief charge stemming from a broken jail cell window.

Devost is accused of using a storage bin to break the window during a four-day stint in November in the Erie County Correctional Facility in Alden for harassment and disorderly conduct.

Sheriff's deputies arrested Devost on Friday morning on a bench warrant for failing to appear March 27 in Alden Town Court on the broken-window charge.

They then discovered that Devost also had "multiple harassment charges outstanding in the City of Buffalo" and sent him to Buffalo City Court to be arraigned on those charges Saturday morning, Koch said.

A City Court judge ordered that Devost be released on his own recognizance on the harassment charges.

That's when two errors led to Devost's release, Koch said.

First, the paperwork relating to the Alden bench warrant was not sent to City Court. Second, a deputy working at the court building didn't follow a Sheriff's Office policy to double-check that Devost didn't have additional court appearances, Koch said.

"Our employee at City Court failed to call back to the jail to confirm that there were no other detainers before letting him go," Koch said.

Koch said the Professional Standards Division of the Sheriff's Office is investigating Devost's release.

"I would expect that if policy is violated, there will be a disciplinary hearing for the employee," Koch said. "If it was determined that there was a weakness in our policy, we would look to address that by a policy change."

The incident follows the mistaken release last month of a man charged with attempted murder from the Correctional Facility in Alden because of a clerical error. That inmate, Awet Gebreyesus, was released for about 20 hours before he was located and taken back into custody.

Sheriff Timothy B. Howard appeared before the County Legislature last month to explain that release. He told legislators that an antiquated system for updating records, as well as fatigue-inducing mandatory overtime to deal with inadequate staffing levels, contributed to the mistaken release in March.