State pays victims of inmate freed by mistake
The state has agreed to pay a total of $60,000 to settle lawsuits filed by two women who were victimized by a state prison inmate who was mistakenly released on parole last year, then went on a two-day crime spree before being arrested.
James Rand, 46, was released on parole to the streets of Concord in March 2012, instead of to the custody of the Merrimack County sheriff to be sentenced on five outstanding convictions for receiving stolen property.
Rand's rampage caused a public furor, prompting then-Gov. John Lynch to ask the attorney general to investigate.
Julia Jones of Concord, who was working at Cumberland Farms in Concord when Rand robbed her at knifepoint, settled for $15,000, and Jennifer Towne of Manchester, who was mugged coming out of Concord's Walmart, settled for $45,000, both of which included attorney fees, according to their lawyer Charles G. Douglas. Douglas and attorney Jason Major represented the women.
"We're very pleased the state saw the merit of our case and with the legal debate aside, they did the right thing in compensating these two women," Douglas said.
Senior Assistant Attorney General Mary Ann Dempsey, chief of the Civil Bureau, said the state weighed a number of factors before agreeing to settle the suit against the Department of Corrections.
"The settlement we entered into allowed us to resolve the matter in an efficient manner, and we determined it was in the best interest of the state to reach a settlement...," Dempsey said.
The state, like any party being sued, factors in what it would cost to litigate and hire expert witnesses in deciding whether to settle out of court, she said.
"We had made the legal argument that the release of Mr. Rand wasn't the cause of his subsequent criminal activity, but rather than wait for the court to rule, we were able to have productive settlement (talks)," Dempsey said.
Settlement money generally comes out of the state's general fund, she said.
"The settlement means that there was no finding of liability, that the parties agreed to resolve the matter," Dempsey said, "It was a good resolution for both sides."
Douglas said Towne's settlement was higher than Jones' because she had medical bills resulting from the attack and lost her job because she was unable to work while in counseling.
"It was compensatory damage for emotional upset and the physical assault that each of them went through," Douglas said.
Douglas said the women shouldn't have been subjected to Rand's crime spree.
"We argued that this was gross negligence and, therefore, it was inevitable that a lifetime convict was going to commit another crime if released without proper supervision and paroled," Douglas said. "He wasn't supposed to be out at all."
Douglas said three other people contacted his office identifying cases in which convicts had been mistakenly released, but they occurred too long ago to include in the suits.
Dempsey said she was not aware of any such cases.Rand has since been sentenced on the prior convictions for receiving stolen property and for the crimes involving Towne and Jones. Rand's sentences will require him to spend a minimum of 20 years in state prison, according to Jeffrey Lyons, spokesman for the Department of Corrections.
The attorney general's final report was released last fall, placing the blame for Rand's release on the Adult Parole Board for "both an absence of written policies and human error."Andrea Goldberg, the board's executive assistant, said the board is "still working on developing long-term policies," but written policies are in place to make sure no other inmate is mistakenly released on parole.
Parole Board Chairman Donna Sytek said the problem was mainly a result of human error. The corrections' computer system showed Rand should have been held on detainers that were in place, but staff members overrode that hold order.
Had the staff followed the procedures in place, Rand wouldn't have been released that day, Sytek said.
The procedure in place now will make sure the error isn't repeated, Sytek said. "As long as it is observed," she added.