FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. (WSVN) - Broward Sheriff’s Office deputies, the State Attorney’s Office and the Clerk of Courts are trying to to determine who should take the blame for the wrongful release of an inmate charged in a fatal 2018 shooting of a man in Pembroke Park.
Officials said 28-year-old Eric Vail was let out of the Broward County Jail on Thursday after his charge was upgraded from second-degree murder to first-degree murder.
Monday afternoon, his family rose to his defense.
“He is innocent until proven guilty,” said his grandmother, Judy McGowan.
Vail is accused of firing an AR-15-style rifle at a pickup truck along Southwest 32nd Street and 52nd Avenue, back in October. Police said he fatally struck 27-year-old Wadarius Harris.
Vail was arrested and charged with second-degree murder, but in April, a grand jury indicted him on first-degree murder, and he was ordered held without bond, according to the district’s State Attorney’s Office.
That indictment technically wiped out the previous second-degree charge, and perhaps based on that, he was released Thursday.
“We went to a graduation Friday with his niece, and we were together on Friday. We had breakfast,” said McGowan.
Vail has not been seen since.
“He was dismissed on a second-degree charge on Thursday, Friday morning. The charges were dismissed for second-degree,” said McGowan. “Now, it’s back to first-degree, so it’s more than a mistake. It’s something else going on.”
Now the question that officials from various agencies want to answer is, who dropped the ball?
BSO officials said they were only told the lesser charge was dismissed. They released a statement that read, “It is the responsibility of the Broward County Clerk of Courts to distribute official documentation between all the essential parties about court proceedings. At the time Vail was scheduled for release, the jail had not received any documentation from the Clerk of Courts stating the subject was to remain in custody to face another charge.”
The State Attorney’s Office said it’s not their fault either. They responded to BSO’s statement saying, “The defendant was taken to court by the Sheriff’s Office on the first-degree murder charge on Thursday, so it’s hard to know how the Sheriff’s Office didn’t know about the first-degree murder charge.”
The State Attorney’s Office said they followed all procedures while Vail was out of jail with his family.
“Saturday morning, when I come down out of my apartment to go to church, my whole house was surrounded with deputies, sheriffs with machine guns, and they told me that they were looking for Eric,” said McGowan, “so I said, ‘Well, what for? You just let him out of jail.'”
Vail’s mother, Lakeisha Wallace, also addressed her son’s jail release.
“He’s definitely not dangerous. Yes, he was involved in something, an accident that happened in Pembroke [Park] in Broward, but he’s not a monster,” she said, “and that’s what the cops are making it look like. I understand that they want him to turn himself in and that they want him to do the right thing, but I think they’re going about it the wrong way.”
However, Vail remains on the run.
Now his loved ones said they just want him to do the right thing.
“As a mother, I can say what is best, as far as turning yourself in, but it’s your choice,” she said. “It’s your choice. It’s your life. It’s all up to you.”
Clerk of Courts officials said there is a transcript of the court hearing that led to Vail’s release. According to all parties involved, the transcript will reveal who was at fault.
If you have any information on Vail’s whereabouts, call 911 or Broward County Crime Stoppers at 954-493-TIPS. Remember, you can always remain anonymous, and you may be eligible for a $3,000 reward.
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