Sheriff reinstates suspended jail chief despite series of mistaken inmate releases

Audit of booking, transport facilities reveals 18 areas for improvement

By Mariah Medina - Digital Journalist, Dillon Collier - Investigative Reporter

SAN ANTONIO - Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar confirmed Monday that a jail chief whom he suspended last month has been cleared to return to work.

Salazar suspended acting jail administrator Ruben Vela on Jan. 27, the day an inmate was mistakenly released without a GPS monitor. In the weeks prior to Vela's suspension, an inmate being held on an ICE detainer was mistakenly released and another inmate's out-of-county holding orders were overlooked, allowing for his release.

The Sheriff's Office said Monday that Vela would return to his post of Deputy Chief of the Detention Bureau, which was his title before being promoted to interim jail administrator last year. Captain Avery Walker, who was tapped to fill the vacancy caused by Vela's suspension, will remain acting jail administrator as the Sheriff's Office conducts a nationwide search for a permanent replacement.

Records show an audit of the Justice Intake and Assessment Annex, as well as the Bexar County Adult Detention Center's Transport Hub, was launched the same day Vela was suspended. The Sheriff's Office released the preliminary findings of the audit Monday.

The report identified 18 areas for improvement, some of which have already been addressed. The audit also uncovered a mix-up that occurred under Vela's authority, which sent an inmate to state prison instead of rehab.

According to the report containing the preliminary findings of the audit, officials conducted an on-site inspection of the facilities from Jan. 27 through Feb. 1.

During the inspection, officials with the Internal Audit Unit spoke with employees who play a role in the booking, release and transport process. The employees were asked to provide feedback on their role, training and performance. Officials with the IAU also looked through education materials on the detention policy manual.

The seven-page report detailed inconsistencies in training materials and current practices, lack of oversight, deficiencies in staffing and other areas of improvement.

CLICK HERE TO READ THE REPORT

Officials with IAU recommended additional training and more precise staffing. The report noted that "some supervisors were found to not have undergone comprehensive training relating to intake and release procedures," and that other supervisors were acting outside of the scope of their duties due to staffing constraints.

Additionally, the report states that the utilization of certain staff "falls short of full potential" and that "efforts should be made to cross-train employees and ensure on-the-job training is implemented."

Many of the areas of improvement deal with "improper scheduling and staffing assignments based on certifications levels." According to the report, a full review of the staffing model and training needs is underway.

The report goes on to call the current handwritten processing of release documents "antiquated" and states that officials are currently reviewing the flow of documents.

As the Sheriff's Office awaits a paperless system, which the report estimates will be implemented in approximately two and a half years, the county has purchased color-coded files, color markers, self-inking stamps and other supplies.

The county is also apparently seeking a more immediate computerized solution to streamline the management of documents at the facility.

All deficiencies, with the exception of the document processing system, will be addressed in 30 days or less, according to the report.

Click here if you are unable to see the timeline of incidents at the jail below:

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