SAN ANTONIO – The Bexar County Sheriff's Office on Tuesday confirmed that jail officials accidentally sent an inmate to a state prison last month despite a judge signing off on an in-patient drug counseling program.
Johnny Villalobos, 40, was mistakenly sent to the Garza West unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice on Jan. 17, according to online court records.
His family became aware of the mix-up after Villalobos sent them a letter from the state prison saying he was being kept in general population.
Online records also indicate that a week before being sent to the Garza West unit, Villalobos was waiting for a spot to open up at a treatment facility and had been granted five years of probation in a felony drug possession case.
Villalobos was scheduled to go through drug counseling for between six and nine months followed by a shorter stint in a transitional living facility.
The mistake came approximately one week before Sheriff Javier Salazar suspended the interim jail administrator, Ruben Vela, for failure to properly supervise jail staff.
Prior to Vela's suspension, clerical errors by jail staff led to the misplacement or mistaken release of at least four inmates in January alone.
The Sheriff's Office said Tuesday that officials have "been working diligently on this incident since being notified by the court clerk last week."
"Staff at TDC [sic] Garza West have been informed and assured the Sheriff’s Office that measures were made for Villalobos’ safety," the Sheriff's Office said via email Tuesday. "The documents needed to relocate Villalobos will be sent to TDC [sic] Garza West tomorrow morning to ensure the relocation of Villalobos to the TDC [sic] Substance Abuse Felony Punishment Facility, which is where Villalobos was sentenced to be housed."
Editor's Note: The BCSO spokesperson misidentified the state agency as the Texas Department of Corrections, or TDC. The correct name of the agency is Texas Department of Criminal Justice, or TDCJ.
Villalobos' attorney, John Kuntz, said that in his more than two decades of experience, he has never seen an inmate sent to the wrong prison.
"I know the sheriff's department and the jail have been going through a lot of problems right now, but this is a pretty big one," said Kuntz.
"Johnny's never been to prison. He's almost 40 years old. He shouldn't be in prison."
Sheriff Javier Salazar released the following statement Wednesday afternoon:
It appears this was a clerical error, due to paperwork crossing in transit from other agencies. Nonetheless, the error was on the part of BCSO personnel and was preventable. This incident was discovered during an ongoing Internal Affairs investigation and an Internal Audit of booking procedures. Sweeping changes are taking place to the process, and there will be accountability.
A spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice said via telephone the paperwork that arrived with Villalobos last month made no mention of him being assigned to a Substance Abuse Felony Punishment Facility (SAFPF).
The spokesman said BCSO officials reached out Wednesday morning with an update correcting Villalobos' status.
He said Villalobos has now been placed in "transit status", will no longer be in the prison's general population and will at some point soon be taken to a state rehab facility.
Prior to this felony case, Villalobos' criminal history in Bexar County consisted of multiple arrests for misdemeanor marijuana possession and one misdemeanor assault conviction, court records show.
A felony aggravated assault charge against Villalobos was dismissed in December, according to court records.