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Friday April 18th 2014

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Get Out of Jail Free

How to commit crime while in county’s care
By Jesse Farthing

The murder of Adnan Glelati, the owner of 7 Stars Auto, Inc., on Aug. 14, raises many questions about the supervisory practices of inmates in the Escambia County work release program, the Florida Department of Corrections and the way the two cooperate with one another.

According to the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office report, Glelati’s friend Abdul Abumohaimed stated that he was at the car lot, which is located on North W Street one block north of Beverly Parkway in Pensacola, at 9 a.m. on the morning of the murder to have coffee with Glelati.

While there, Justin Princes Taylor Jr. arrived and inquired about purchasing a vehicle for $500. Abumohaimed told investigators that he had a “funny feeling” about Taylor, in part because Taylor had purchased a vehicle from Abumohaimed in the past that was subsequently repossessed.

He said that Taylor had made death threats toward him after the repossession. Taylor once worked at 7 Stars Auto and Glelati had also repossessed a car sold to him.

Abumohaimed asked Glelati if he should hang around, but left the lot at 9:25 a.m. after being told he didn’t need to stay.

Glelati was found dead in the office at 9:50 a.m. when an employee came in for work.

Taylor was located by deputies later that afternoon and brought in for questioning, where he made statements outlining what he was doing on the day of the murder.

The 24-year-old had checked out of the Escambia County Work Release facility at 7 a.m., where his girlfriend picked him up and took him to her house. At 8 a.m. he said he dropped his girlfriend off at school and went to Wal-Mart to purchase a prepaid cell phone before going to work at Willie G’s Detailing Shop at 9 a.m., where he said that he stayed until 11:30 a.m.

At 11:30, Taylor told investigators that he picked up his girlfriend from school and went to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting that lasted until 1 p.m., then went shopping at a Grocery Outlet, picked up some Taco Bell and went back to the girlfriend’s home until 7:30 p.m.

The investigators did check with Willie Gaines, owner of Willie G’s Detailing Shop at 760 Van Pelt, less than five minutes from 7 Stars Auto, on Taylor’s alibi. Gaines said that he had shown up at 9 a.m., but he had no work for Taylor.

The following day, a .38 revolver was located wrapped in a Grocery Outlet bag not far from Taylor’s girlfriend’s address. The gun was traced to a man in Cantonment, who gave a sworn statement saying that he had sold the gun to Taylor about three weeks before the date of the murder.

Taylor was arrested and charged with homicide, robbery with a firearm and possession of a weapon by a convicted felon on Aug. 15.

Criminal Life Unhampered

Taylor has a lengthy criminal record dating back to 2005 that includes burglary, grand theft, fraud and grand theft auto.

Taylor had been placed in the work release program through a drug court case because, according to the Florida State Department of Correction’s Public Information Officer Jo Ellyn Rackleff, the court “decided he needed more supervision” after violating his probation by testing positive for marijuana.

According to Escambia County spokesman Bill Pearson, Taylor entered the work release facility on July 25. Escambia County Judge Scott Duncan placed him in the program, via Drug Court. Judge Duncan refused to discuss his decision because of the active cases against Taylor.

According to the statement by Larry Quales, who sold Taylor the revolver, Taylor’s commitment to work release was about the same time he bought the handgun. It’s illegal for a convicted felon to own a gun.

However, being in the county’s work release program didn’t stop Taylor from allegedly committing other crimes. On Aug. 5, 10 days before he was arrested for the murder of Glelati, Taylor was charged with burglary and grand theft after he allegedly entered an unoccupied, unlocked residence and stole a Nintendo Wii that he subsequently sold for $17 to Trade N Save Video Games. Taylor provided his Florida ID card and right thumbprint for the transaction, which led to his arrest.

The arrest apparently did not disqualify him from remaining in the work release program and going out into the community six days of the week.

According to the DOC website, an inmate is ineligible for community release programs if he has a current or prior sex offense conviction, an escape attempt, a prior termination from a release program, a guilty verdict on any disciplinary report in the 60 days leading up to placement, refuses to complete a substance abuse program, has a felony or misdemeanor (other than child support) warrant, or if the inmate has been incarcerated four or more times in a state or federal corrections facility.

Other factors that the state DOC reviews before determining eligibility include arrest history, with particular attention to violent offenses, pending charges and substance abuse history.

Escambia County’s work release facility is not a state-run facility and does not necessarily have the same standards as a state program.

Who was responsible for that supervision? The county said that their only responsibility through the work release facility was to make sure Taylor stayed in overnight and checked in and out on time, but otherwise Taylor was under the supervision of his probation officers through the DOC.

Weak Supervision

According to county officials, Taylor was checking out of the work release program Monday-Friday from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturday from 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. to go to work. On Sundays he was to remain in the facility. While out, he was supposed to be attending his drug treatment program at Lakeview, which he attended four nights per week, or going to work. Taylor failed to report back to the facility on the day of the murder.

Taylor was allegedly employed at Willie G’s Detailing Shop, a small office with a single-car garage shop at the end of a row of mostly-empty warehouses owned and operated by William Gaines, where he worked as an auto detailer.

Taylor’s employment at Willie G’s was “verified” by his probation officer on July 29 through a phone call. However, when the Independent News visited the shop, Gaines stated that Taylor hadn’t worked for him in four to five months and then he had really only worked for a period of two weeks. According to Gaines, he had actually been working at 7 Stars Auto. Employees of 7 Stars Auto declined to comment.

Neither the Escambia County Work Release Facility nor DOC had any record of Taylor working at 7 Stars Auto while he was in their program.

Further digging revealed a signed document from Gaines to the DOC confirming that Taylor was employed full-time, Monday-Saturday, as of July 26, 2013—the day after Taylor was ordered to the work release program. Gaines confirmed over the phone that he sent the letter, but added that he told the probation officer that Taylor would only actually be working “when he was needed,” which Gaines said was never necessary during the work release period.

The Independent News asked where Taylor was spending his time out on work release if not at the job where he said he was employed and why weren’t his whereabouts more closely supervised.

Rackleff said, “I know it seems lax, but we can only do what the court tells us,” and added that they don’t just follow offenders around. The judge usually orders the offender to see his or her probation officer once a week and that’s the only ongoing supervision, according to the DOC.

“They’re moving throughout the community during the day,” Rackleff said. “They’re supposed to go to their job. They can get lunch and move around a little bit.”

Most state DOC-run work release centers are prison programs that work as transitional programs for inmates to reintegrate into society as their sentences near an end, but Escambia County’s work release center is not a prison program—it’s a probation program where probation violators can be housed under stricter supervision.

Taylor, who was ordered into “closer supervision” by the court system due to his inability to stick to the terms of his probation, was ultimately not being supervised at all and allowed what seems to be complete freedom—freedom that allegedly led to the murder of Adnan Glelati.

A Brief History of County Work Release

In January, the State Auditor General released its operational audit of DOC’s oversight of security operations, which recommended that all work release centers have an annual security audit. However, Escambia County’s center is not under DOC supervision and is not subject to the DOC standards. Escambia’s program is a private entity with its own internal policies, with no relationship with the DOC.

The Escambia County Work Release Program was established in 1984 and was initially run under the supervision of the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office. Inmates at the time were housed at the Jail Annex and it only had the capacity for up to 30 offenders. The location was moved several times, each time doubling its capacity.

Escambia County Board of Commissioners took control of the work release program from the ECSO in 2002. The current facility, built in 2005, has the capacity to house 300 inmates in sex separate dormitories. Inmates are assigned a bunk and given access to television, pay phones and a washer and dryer. They are charged $20 per day, to offset food costs, according to a 2011 PowerPoint presentation made to the commissioners.

The facility is secured with 10 corrections officers who have the authority to conduct random strip searches of inmates to prevent any contraband from making it inside. Random locker and bunk searches are also regularly conducted. While inside the facility, inmates are tracked and recorded by a series of video cameras.

According to the presentation, inmates are released to verified employers during work hours and are supposed to return to the facility after their shifts are over. There is no mention of supervision outside the walls of the facility.

In many state-run work release centers, some inmates are required to wear ankle bracelets and are required to return to the center right after their job, where they remain locked up until their next job shift. They can get permission to do things like go to the dentist or get a haircut, but generally only get out for work. Escambia’s clearly works differently.

Are There Bigger Problems?

A state-contracted Work Release Center in Largo, Fla. run by Goodwill Industries, came under heavy investigation after one of the inmates housed there escaped and murdered two men and another raped a foreign exchange student on her way to school.

On Sept. 30, 2012, Michael Scott Norris checked out of the facility several hours before he was due at work. He then broke into a motel where his ex-girlfriend was staying and stole a semi-automatic handgun before driving to the home of 51-year-old Bruce Johnson, where he shot and killed Johnson and 36-year-old Arthur Regula, set the house on fire and escaped in Regula’s truck. He then turned himself in to authorities.

On Dec. 18, 2012, Dustin Kennedy left the center at 6:03 a.m., an hour before the business he was supposed to report to for work would open. He encountered a 17-year-old girl who was walking to a bus stop. Kennedy grabbed her from behind, choked her and dragged her into a ditch where she lost consciousness as she was raped, according to a sheriff’s report. DNA evidence led to Kennedy and he admitted to the crime.

The Tampa Bay Times conducted an investigation into the Goodwill center and discovered a mess of corruption and mismanagement.

Inmates regularly signed out to go to work, but never showed up. There were reports of sexual activity between inmates—sometimes involving work release staff. Largo residents complained for years about inmates jumping fences and roaming the neighborhoods unsupervised. Then, of course, came the murders and rape.

Florida passed laws to limit work release populations to 200 and requiring electronic monitoring of all inmates in an attempt to clean up the Largo facility, but shut it down in June after an undercover sheriff’s operation witnessed many of the same violations that the Tampa Bay Times had already reported.

Pinellas County Sheriffs reported blatant misbehavior, including inmates not going to their jobs when checking out and stashing contraband outside the facility before checking in. One inmate even got a head start on his escape when Goodwill failed to report him as missing right away. Goodwill records showed the inmate present for bed check at 2 a.m., but missing at 4 a.m. Surveillance video showed him escaping over a fence at 12:40 a.m., according to the Tampa Bay Times.

Stonewalling

Escambia County senior leadership has been reluctant to talk with the Independent News about the arrest of one of its work release inmates for murder and other possible security risks at its facility.

The county work release program is run by Gordon Pike, who will also be running the jail when the transfer is finalized on Oct. 1. When Pike was approached with questions about the work release program, his only response was “You’re Independent News, right? I’m not talking to you.”

After putting in a call to Interim County Commissioner George Touart’s office to ask if the murder and apparent lack of supervision would affect his decision to place Pike as the head of the jail, Bill Pearson, Escambia County’s Public Information Officer, responded by saying that as far as he knew, Touart’s decision was unaffected.

Pike has had a troubled past in corrections. While working as a tracking coordinator, he was fired in 1983 for sexual misconduct while counseling two patients of the Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities at Lakeview Center Drug Program. An appeal to the Civil Service Board got him his job back with only a 30-day suspension.

In 1997, a grand jury recommended that Pike, then a criminal justice director, and his boss, Herman Welch, be removed from office after finding misuse of funds and financial records in disarray, with thousands of dollars owed to the county stuffed in probation officers’ desk drawers. It also found Welch and Pike spent their workdays socializing outside the office and golfing. The grand jury reported Welch and Pike tried to obstruct an audit of financial records and threatened employees, who cooperated with the investigation. Pike appealed to the Civil Service Board, which overturned his punishment and let him keep his county job.

Pearson tried to put the blame on DOC, not Pike and his department, for Taylor’s nearly unfettered freedom to commit possibly burglary and murder while in the program on DOC. He said that Taylor was under the supervision of three state probation officers, not county supervision even though he was staying nightly in a county facility.

When asked for more details on how the work release program was run and who is in charge of inmate supervision, the county provided little clarity and only stated the same few facts repeatedly:  Escambia’s Corrections department runs the work release program, Taylor was under the custody of the state DOC and the county work release program served only as a place for Taylor to report to after work and drug treatment.

Attempts to obtain interviews and a tour of the work release facility seemed like it would not be a problem at first, but no phone calls were returned after the center initially agreed to set up a time. Calling the center back the following day, the person who answered the phone said, “We do not give tours. Have a nice day, sir,” and quickly hung up the phone.

Scamming The System

The Independent News did get an interview with another inmate who is in good standing with the county work release program. The man pointed out the inconsistencies in how the program is being run by Pike and his staff.

In stark contrast to Taylor’s seemingly unlimited freedom while in work release, the inmate, who wished to remain anonymous, expressed frustrations at not being able to pick up extra shifts at his own job when the manager would call in to ask for him. He also was not allowed to accept a second job that would have given him more time outside the facility. Some people in the program have lost their jobs because they weren’t let out to pick up shifts, according to the inmate.

“They give you an hour to get to work and an hour to get back,” the inmate said. “Really not a lot of freedom. You have to really beg for a lot of freedom.”

According to the inmate, the work release center lets the inmates out based on what their work schedule says. He said he was checked on a couple of times during the first week of work release to make sure he was at work, but never beyond that.

When Justice Concepts Incorporated issued its final report on Escambia County’s criminal justice system, the consultants reported on “rumors and speculation about lax supervision and contraband at the Work Release Center.” To which county officials replied, “Propagating rumors and speculation without substantiating the officials inappropriate in any report…”

The county refused to pay the consultants’ final invoice for their work.

The inmate said that there are “a lot of guys” who scam the system and don’t really go to work for the hours they are scheduled outside of the facility, instead spending their time outside the facility roaming the community.

“They don’t really supervise you,” the inmate said. “There have been a lot of people going to jail for doing other things and not going to work.”

Some guards search the inmates when they return from work for contraband, but some guards don’t, according to the inmate, who said that cigarettes and other things make it past the guards regularly. The inmate said one person even smuggled in pills recently.

“You can just about get anything in there you wanted to,” the inmate said.

Maybe it’s time for Escambia County to take a closer look at their work release program, especially with them taking over the jail in less than 30 days.

Rick Outzen contributed to this article.

Editor’s Note: State Attorney Bill Eddins announced on Sept. 4 that an Escambia County Grand Jury indicted Justin Princes Taylor, Jr., for First Degree Murder in the death of Adnan Glelati. Assistant State Attorney Bridgette Jensen is prosecuting the case.