AOC completes investigation of why Boyle man was jailed

Published 8:24 pm Thursday, February 7, 2019

A Boyle County man was arrested incorrectly for failing to take a drug test because “Pretrial Services staff failed to remove the drug-testing stipulation from the court’s case management system,” according to a statement from Leigh Anne Hiatt, public information officer for the Administrative Office of the Courts.

Daniel Cooke was arrested Dec. 28 after Boyle County Circuit Judge Darren Peckler issued a bench warrant because he was told Cooke had failed to show up for a drug screening. But Peckler had not set drug screens as a condition of Cooke’s release.

Cooke spent the next three days in a suicide cell at the jail, until his family could gather enough money to pay $500 for his release, according to Cooke and his attorney, Public Defender Jessica Buck.

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Buck has said her office and Pretrial Services began trying to get Cooke back out the night of his arrest, but Peckler could not be reached to give the order.

In early January, Peckler asked the AOC to investigate what happened. Hiatt said this week that the investigation had been conducted.

Cooke had three different bonds set before he was able to get out of jail, according to Hiatt. The first, set on Nov. 24, was a $10,000 cash bond that “included various other stipulations, none of which involved drug testing,” Hiatt said.

On Nov. 28, Peckler “amended the bond to a partially secured $10,000 at 10 percent and included among other stipulations that Mr. Cooke be drug-tested,” she said.

Peckler amended Cooke’s bond again on Dec. 4, giving him an unsecured bond “with a third set of stipulations,” Hiatt said. “However, these new stipulations did not include drug testing by Pretrial Services.”

Pretrial Services “failed to remove the drug-testing stipulation from the court’s case management system,” Hiatt said. “… Appropriate action has been taken to address this situation and Pretrial Services is reviewing local processes as a preventive measure to avoid this mistake in the future.”

Asked to elaborate, Hiatt said Pretrial Staff are going through a “thorough review of the pretrial process in Boyle County that focuses on how to effectively document and evaluate violations before they are filed. This includes how to best handle multiple changes to bond conditions.”

“Our staff members have done an excellent job of stressing the importance of accuracy in case management and we are confident in the process going forward,” she added.

A local Pretrial Services employee has previously told The Advocate-Messenger the office cannot provide a comment due to policy and state law.

Buck said she understands that “mistakes happen.”

“I think our Pretrial Services in Boyle and Mercer counties are really exceptional folks,” she said. “They’re really hard-working. I really appreciated the response that that office gave when we found out that Mr. Cooke had been taken into custody.”

Buck said the “real tragedy” is that Cooke spent three days in jail — and could have spent longer if his family couldn’t come up with bail money — while Pretrial Services was trying to correct its mistake.

“They tried over and over again to fix the mistake by reaching out to the judge and they weren’t able to get ahold of him,” Buck said. “… I think the measure of how good a system works is not is it mistake-or error-free, because I don’t think a system like that can exist. It’s how you respond to mistakes or errors and what systems are in place to correct them.”

Peckler was not immediately available for comment.

He previously told The Advocate-Messenger he had been visiting family over the holiday break and “didn’t find out about it until I got back after the new year.”

Peckler subsequently signed orders dismissing the charge against Cooke and refunding him his bond money.

Buck said with “modern technology,” it shouldn’t be hard to get in contact with a judge in an emergency situation. There could also be alternate judges designated to handle emergency situations when another judge isn’t available, she added.