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Albany felon mistakenly released from prison

Department of Corrections may have missed inmate hold order

Col. John Ostrander, director of the Dougherty County jail, believes the Georgia Department of corrections released a violent inmate after misplacing a hold order. (Staff Photo: Jim West)

Col. John Ostrander, director of the Dougherty County jail, believes the Georgia Department of corrections released a violent inmate after misplacing a hold order. (Staff Photo: Jim West)

ALBANY — Law enforcement officials have revealed that a convicted felon, arrested for an Albany robbery in March of 2013, was released by the Georgia Department of Corrections the following October to rob again weeks later.

Johnnie Lee Hill, then 23, and his younger brother Kenton Dontae Hill were arrested on March 9, 2013, for the armed robbery of a Dollar General store in East Albany and charged with aggravated assault, armed robbery and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime. Johnnie Hill was also charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Both were transported to the Dougherty County jail.

Johnnie Hill, who was on parole for previous crimes, including theft by taking, entering auto and burglary, was taken to prison by the Georgia Department of Corrections to complete his standing sentence for those offenses, officials say, before facing trial for the new charges.

To signify that Hill should remain available after completing his previous sentence, an authorization was issued to the DOC by the Dougherty County Sheriff’s Office to continue holding the inmate on the outstanding charge of aggravated assault — that he not be released prior to notification. Officials of the Dougherty County jail say the document accompanied Hill to the prison facility.

Instead, Hill was released from prison on Oct. 6, 2013, DOC officials say, and arrested again on March 10 on charges of robbing Haley Food Mart in Albany last December.

Responding to a request by The Albany Herald, DOC officials denied receipt of “any documentation” from the Dougherty County Sheriff’s Office requesting a hold order on Hill.

According to the DOC, unidentified Sheriff’s Office personnel, contacted on Sept. 17, 2013, advised the DOC there were no active warrants against Hill. The date and nature of that exchange was entered into Johnnie Lee Hill’s records on Sept. 20, DOC officials say.

A request for copies of Hill’s records under the Georgia Open Records Act was denied by the DOC, stating that files relating to an inmate’s probation are “classified as confidential state secrets and privileged under law …” and are therefore not subject to disclosure under the Georgia Open Records Act.

Col. John Ostrander, director of the Daugherty County jail, recently displayed a computer copy of the Johnnie Hill hold order dated May 27, 2013, and said he’s certain a hard copy of the form went with Hill to the prison.

“My experience with the DOC is that they wouldn’t take any action based strictly on verbal approval over the telephone, anyway,” Ostrander said. “Nobody who was on duty at that time (at the Sheriff’s Office) said they fielded such a phone call, so I can’t say it ever happened.”

Ostrander does say that hold orders and similar documents are misplaced or misfiled by the DOC on a fairly regular basis, and not surprisingly so.

“Situations like this are not necessarily routine,” Ostrander said, “but they’re not unheard of, either. They’ve happened before this (situation) and they’ve happened since, especially when the inmate is transferred from institution to institution within the state system. I understand there’s an incredible amount of documentation to keep up with for each individual inmate so the opportunity for one hold order to be misplaced is certainly there.”