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Westmoreland

Westmoreland investigates disciplinary action against jail worker who released inmate prematurely

Rich Cholodofsky
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Westmoreland officials said Tuesday an investigation is ongoing to determine how to discipline a county prison worker responsible for the premature release last week of an inmate sentenced to serve up to 23 months behind bars.

Sheriff Jonathan Held, who serves as chairman of the county’s prison board, said it appears a paperwork error by a county jail clerk resulted in an inmate being allowed to walk free after being temporarily transferred to the Allegheny County Jail in Pittsburgh.

“It does concern me and corrective measures need to be implemented to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Held said.

Held identified the inmate as Jessie V. Lawson, 25, of New Alexandria, who in December pleaded guilty to charges of avoiding apprehension and a drug offense. According to court records, sheriff deputies came to Lawson’s home in October to serve an arrest warrant for an unrelated case when they were greeted by a 4-year-old boy who said Lawson was hiding in another room. The boy led them to Lawson.

During the arrest, deputies said marijuana and drug paraphernalia were found in the residence. Lawson admitted the drugs belonged to him, according to court records.

He pleaded guilty and was sentenced by Westmoreland County Common Pleas Court Judge Christopher Feliciani to serve six to 23 months in jail and was given credit for time served behind bars since his arrest two months earlier. Charges of drug possession and child endangerment were dismissed.

Held said Lawson was transferred last week to Allegheny County to appear at a hearing there for an unrelated offense. His paperwork, prepared by a clerk at the Westmoreland lockup, did not reflect that he was to be returned to complete his sentence, officials said. Because of the error, Allegheny County jail officials allowed Lawson to be released after posting bail, Held said.

A warrant for Lawson’s arrest was issued late last week. He was captured Monday and appeared before Feliciani who ordered him detained to continue serving his sentence.

Westmoreland Prison Warden John Walton declined to comment.

County commission Chair Gina Cerilli said she could not comment.

Held said the county’s human resources office is investigating and will recommend any discipline for the unnamed jail worker.

“It was one of the newer clerks. The prison board will be updated about any disciplinary actions and there will be worker training to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” Held said.

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293 or [email protected]