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Another lawsuit in inmate's early release

New Hampshire Union Leader

April 10. 2012 11:35PM

A Manchester mother assaulted during a purse snatching at a Concord Walmart earlier this month is the second person to sue the state for wrongly releasing an inmate, attorney Charles G. Douglas III said Tuesday.

Douglas said he notified state Corrections Commissioner William Wrenn by mail Tuesday of the woman's intent to sue the state for damages suffered because the state Adult Parole Board and its executive assistant, John Eckert, mistakenly allowed James Earl Rand, 44, to be released from state prison in Concord on March 30.

Rand should have been paroled to the Merrimack County House of Corrections, which had detainers to hold him pending trial on two stolen property charges.

Eckert has publicly accepted responsibility for the error.

Two days after Rand's release from prison, Concord police say he mugged the Manchester mother outside the Walmart about 11:20 p.m. April 1, then held up a Cumberland Farms store clerk at knifepoint about 20 minutes later.

Rand also is charged with stealing checks from a Concord construction company on March 31. 'James Rand should not have been out on the street. They had a detainer. They have a system. They didn't do it. And as a result, this woman was assaulted and her purse taken ... That should not have happened,' Douglas said

'It's more than negligence. It's recklessness,' the Concord attorney added.

The woman suffered scrapes, bruising and a back injury for which she sought treatment several days later at Elliot Hospital in Manchester, Douglas said. He would not disclose her name.

Douglas also represents Julia Jones, 21, the Cumberland Farms store clerk held up at knifepoint, allegedly by Rand. She has told the state she plans to sue for damages because of 'serious emotional distress' suffered as a result of its negligence.

Eckert has said he failed to check to see if any detainers were pending against Rand prior to Rand's being released on parole. Eckert said proper procedures are in place to guard against such incidents, but he missed a step. He noted he was filling in for a colleague out on medical leave who normally does those checks.

Meanwhile, at Gov. John Lynch's request, the state Attorney General's Office and New Hampshire State Police have launched an investigation into what happened.

Douglas said three former New Hampshire inmates contacted him to report they also had been paroled, only to learn later that they had outstanding detainers or warrants.

'They wanted me to know that (department of) corrections was not being candid when it said this hadn't happened before,' Douglas said.

All three cases are more than three years old and the statute of limitations has expired on them, he said.

One involves a woman paroled from Laconia state prison only to learn about four years later during a traffic stop that she had an active detainer against her, he said. The other involved a man who transferred to Arizona at the end of his federal sentence in 2006 to be later told by Eckert that New Hampshire had a retainer on him and he had to return, Douglas said.

State Corrections Department spokesman Jeffrey Lyons has said the mistake that led to Rand's release is the first time he is aware such an error occurred.

'I stand by that comment. We're not aware of any previous incidents,' Lyons said.

He said corrections have conducted an internal review and determined their officers followed proper procedures in checking with the parole board for any outstanding warrants or detainers before paroling Rand to the street.

'They (parole board) gave the go-ahead for him to be released,' Lyons said. He attributed the error to a 'communications breakdown.'

Rand was serving concurrent one- to three-year state prison sentences for forgery and habitual offender convictions. The court suspended a year from his minimum sentence, which made him eligible for a regular, discretionary parole after serving his minimum six months, Lyons said.

Concord police arrested Rand early April 2 on armed robbery and related charges. He is being held on $80,000 bail.

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