By Troy Torres
(Tumon, Guam) Senators grilled the truth out of prison officials about the erroneous releases of prisoners this year in an explosive oversight hearing of the Department of Corrections happening right now at the Guam Legislature.
The truth? One platoon commander, who twice in a row did not verify the paperwork that erroneously released prisoners who were not supposed to be released, was only ever reprimanded for the massive violation of protocols. Worse, the decision and the reprimands were kept from the director of corrections, Samantha Brennan, and hidden in an envelope discovered in the former deputy director's office.
On evening of April 11 this year, an officer at the Hagatna Detention Center began processing paperwork to release Jay Javier, a detainee. That paperwork went to the Mangilao correctional facility, where the platoon commander was, to be checked over to verify the information on the detainee and the orders for release from the court. That platoon commander signed off and verified the release, despite forgetting her password and being unable to actually view the information and verify the paperwork.
Major Antone Aguon explained this under intense questioning from Vice Speaker Telena Nelson and Senator Therese Terlaje. You may watch a part of this exchange by clicking here.
The platoon commander was counseled and reprimanded for the error, which she explained to be a simple oversight on hers and the officer's part.
A few nights later, on April 16, 2019, a commitment order arrived at the Hagatna Detention Center for Simon Johnson, and instead of being detained, Mr. Johnson was freed following paperwork sent to and signed by the same platoon commander.
"So a commitment order came and not a release order," Ms. Nelson asked Mr. Aguon. "How did we confuse that?"
"It was an oversight on the officer's part," Mr. Aguon replied.
Ms. Brennan and Mr. Aguon explained to senators that DOC officers utilize two computer systems to cross check information. When prisoners are to be released, they told senators, three different people sign off on the release; the platoon commander is the last line of defense to ensure the integrity of the system. Ms. Nelson, after discovering through her line of questioning that the procedure obviously was flawed in the instances of the erroneous release of at least three detainees, found out that the system wasn't even being used.
MS. NELSON: Does it (the system) have all the information needed to verify?
MS. BRENNAN: I want to say yes, but that's if the information is imported to the system.
MS. NELSON: When you did the investigation, was all the info uploaded when the platoon commander verified these checks?
MR. AGUON: The platoon commander didn't have immediate access to the system.
Mr. Aguon described to senators how the platoon commander did not access the system because she forgot her password.
"Is it in both cases that she didn't have her password," Ms. Nelson asked, visibly upset.
Mr. Aguon replied, "Yes."
Ms. Nelson then launched into a series of questions regarding accountability for the major violations that led to this so-called "oversight." She asked Mr. Aguon why the second time the platoon commander committed the offense she only was subject to a second reprimand and not a harsher disciplinary action that would prevent further violations.
Mr. Aguon told the senators that the decision for the reprimand was given by then-deputy director Joey Terlaje. Ms. Nelson and Ms. Terlaje asked Ms. Brennan what her role in this decision was. This was when she dropped the bombshell.
"I had no knowledge of it until the media called me to ask about this second release and my staff located the documents," Ms. Brennan told senators. She was asked how she didn't know about the disciplinary action, since she is the director of corrections and she would have to file the disciplinary action with the Department of Administration and determine whether a harsher action should have been taken.
"My staff found the document in an envelope... inside the deputy director's office," Ms. Brennan admitted. By the time the document was discovered, the 90-day period for the issuance of disciplinary action had lapsed.
Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Rafael Fernandez, in a detention hearing for Yona Mayor Jesse Blas last month, testified in federal court about the investigation into the alleged bribery of Mr. Blas to use his connections to high-ranking officials in the prison to illegally release prisoners.