Fairfax sheriff's office waited hours to alert public after inmate accidentally released

FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. (FOX 5 DC) -- Nearly a month after an inmate was accidentally released from the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center, FOX 5 is uncovering new details about how it happened and why it took hours for the sheriff's office to alert the public.

On Sunday, May 19, a sheriff's office deputy accidentally released Donald Bernard Lewis, 53, after he was arrested the day before on three grand-larceny charges. Lewis, of D.C., has a lengthy criminal past.

Lewis walked free around 7:30 p.m. The sheriff's office says they realized the mistake a half hour later and an employee called 911.

According to the 911 call, the release was reported as an "escape," which caused inaccurate information to go out to Fairfax County leaders.

It wasn't until nearly 11 p.m. when the sheriff's office alerted the public about what happened with a single tweet. The tweet incorrectly stated that Lewis was released at 9 p.m. instead of 7:30 p.m.

Fairfax County Sheriff Stacey Kincaid refused requests for an interview. Through an FOIA request, FOX 5 learned that high-ranking members at the Fairfax County Police Department were frustrated by the delay in information.

"We were behind the 8-ball from the beginning," a police captain wrote. "Too much of a delay and too hard to get info."

He went on to say, "It was the Sheriff's deal and they were not putting any info out, despite repeated requests from the public that we made them aware of."

The police major who received the email agreed saying it was "disappointing they didn't do more and disappointing they didn't do it in a more timely manner."

Emails also revealed that it was a police spokesman who was sharing information with county leaders as he tried to reach sheriff's office spokeswoman Andrea Ceisler.

According to an email, he says he reached Ceisler after 10 p.m. "She didn't have her phone and had no idea what was going on," reads the email. Ceisler did not return a request for comment.

Sheriff's office spokesman Maj. Tyler Corey told FOX 5 by phone Wednesday that it "doesn't appear that there was any protocol that was breached," and "given the totality of the situation, it was handled properly."

The sheriff's office won't say what led up to the accidental release, only that a deputy at the jail violated policy and "did not verify the identity of Donald Lewis."

FOX 5 attempted to get sheriff's office emails about the incident but were told the cost would be $564.23.

The incident prompted an alert to go out to students and staff at nearby George Mason University urging people to take shelter in a safe and secure place and describing Lewis as "potentially violent."

Some who live in neighborhoods around the jail saw the police searching that night, but never heard why. Resident Monday Muse said the lack of information is concerning.

"We are in a very vulnerable situation since we have the jail right there," said Muse. "I think it's important to keep everybody informed. The more people know, the better off we are."

Neither the Fairfax County Executive nor the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors have been briefed on what happened. County leaders tell FOX 5 that since the sheriff is an elected official, she is accountable to residents of the county.

Lewis was free throughout the night and was picked up in D.C. at 9:20 a.m. Monday.