Sheriff’s Department to install committee to review jail passes

Published 8:34 pm Saturday, June 21, 2014

Inmates at the Dallas County Jail may have a more difficult time getting out on a day pass in the future.

Following former Selma High School teacher LaTanglia Williams’ release on a day pass Sunday, June 1, the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department created an oversight committee to review passes before being issued.

LaTanglia pled guilty in April to having sex with a student, which is a felony, and having sexual contact with a student, which is a misdemeanor. Her sentence was 10 years in jail, which was suspended. She was sentenced to serve 14 months in jail and three years of probation. If at any point she violated terms of probation, LaTanglia would have returned to jail to serve her original ten-year sentence.

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LaTanglia was given a pass on Sunday, June 1 to attend a church anniversary service at John the Baptist in Orrville. LaTanglia’s father, Curtis Williams, is the pastor of the church and a member of the Dallas County Commission.

In response to a Freedom of Information request from The Times-Journal, the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department provided all release records from Jan. 1, 2014 until June 10, 2014. In reviewing those records, the Times-Journal learned that Williams was the only inmate to receive a day pass that was not tied to any kind of trustee or work release assignments.

Chief Deputy Randy Pugh, in response to questions about the released documents and questions from the Times-Journal, said he could only remember a few inmates during his tenure with the Sheriff’s Department being granted a day pass.

Release records for June 1 show Curtis picked up LaTanglia from the jail at 8 a.m. Curtis returned her to jail at 5:58 p.m., according to the records.

Most releases in the records are for trustees, according to the records. Trustees are divided into three categories — in-house, yard and away — Pugh said. In-house trustees work inside the jail’s facilities, yard trustees are given slightly more responsibility and away trustees are allowed to leave the jail for work purposes, Pugh said.

Pugh and Cartledge Blackwell, the sheriff’s department attorney, said they did not know who approved LaTanglia’s day pass out of jail.

“Whoever it was, the sheriff is ultimately responsible,” Pugh said.

Dallas County Sheriff Harris Huffman did not return multiple requests for comment.

LaTanglia has only received one pass during her two months in jail, but several were requested initially and denied, Blackwell said.

“Right off the bat, there were numerous requests for [LaTanglia],” Blackwell said. “Numerous means more than three or four.”

Pugh and Blackwell also deferred any questions about why the June 1 pass was approved and previous requests were denied to Huffman.

With uncertainty surrounding LaTanglia’s release, Blackwell said the department will institute a new process for inmate passes. The process will not apply for trustees.

The oversight committee will include four different members of the sheriff’s department, Pugh said. The committee will include: Pugh, the Dallas County Jail’s Warden David Brown, Chief Investigator Mike Grantham and a fourth person that has not been chosen.

Blackwell proposed the idea following LaTanglia’s release and said the fourth member would likely be a female deputy from the Sheriff’s Department in an effort to add diversity to the committee.

Currently, the department does not have a procedure for issuing passes. Pugh said the issuance of passes is currently decided by the jail’s warden.

“We didn’t have a procedure because it just didn’t happen that often,” Pugh said. “We have had situations where a relative might be dying and we have a deputy escort them to the hospital. I wouldn’t call that a pass though.”

Blackwell said having a policy for passes out of jail may not be common.

“I checked with one other sheriff’s department just to make sure I wasn’t missing something and they had one,” Blackwell said referring a day pass policy. “In that county, all that sheriff knew was that he had one. No one had ever asked him about it though. I suspect that if you go to one of the smaller population counties with a jail it’s all decided orally.”

Blackwell said the newly formed committee would discuss every pass requested. Each person on the committee will have a different role in deciding whether to issue a pass and requests would be scrutinized more closely.

“Our main responsibility is safety of the public and we aren’t going to put anyone out there that will jeopardize their safety,” Pugh said.