EAGLE RIVER -
In his 20 years with the Vilas County Jail, administrator Bill Weiss can count on two hands how many times an inmate got out earlier than they should.
"It's pretty rare," Weiss said.
Weiss needed to add to that tally last week. The jail let Edward Chosa Junior go as a "free" man on March 13, however that wasn't his correct release date.
"It was a clerical mistake," Weiss said.
Chosa, 31, was sentenced to jail for two drug-related cases and disorderly conduct on Jan. 31st. He got credit for time served, which put his release date in May. But a jail sergeant confused "concurrent" sentences and "consecutive" due, in part, to an inaccurate Judgement of Conviction (JOC) form. That led to Chosa's accidental release March 13.
"The sergeant or any supervisor that figures a release date is supposed to double check their work," Weiss said.
The error on the JOC form from the Clerk of Courts may have added to the confusion. Chosa's actual release date should have been in June due to time he needed to serve for a probation violation beyond his drug offenses. Weiss says the clerk apologized for that error to him.
"We tell him, come on up front, we're going to be releasing you, not too many people would say, I don't think your calculations are accurate," Vilas County Sheriff Joe Fath said.
Fath says Chosa checked in with his probation officer on March 14, the day after he got out, which tipped off jail staff to the error. Lac du Flambeau Tribal Police found Chosa at his home and a sheriff's deputy brought him back to jail March 16. Fath said Chosa fully cooperated with his arrest.
"People who wear uniforms are human beings and human beings make mistakes," Fath said.
But it's not the first mistake Vilas County Jail staff made this winter. Homicide suspect James Lussier tried to turn himself in at the jail February 9, but was jokingly told he needed to go to Iron County. Jail Sergeant Kristine Lovas and another corrections officer resigned after that mistake and an internal investigation.
Fath says a different sergeant made the mathematical error on Chosa's release date, however the sheriff says Chosa, at some point, told Lovas his release date was wrong, but she never followed up on it. Lovas told Newswatch 12 in a phone message late Monday she did relay the information Chosa told her to a superior.
Editor's Note: The on-air version of this story at 5 p.m. incorrectly identified the jail sergeant who miscalculated Mr. Chosa's release date as the same sergeant involved in the James Lussier walk-away mistake, Kristine Lovas. The sergeant who made the initial error in Chosa's sentence was not the same person, however Sheriff Fath later clarified Lovas did have a role in Chosa's early release. Newswatch 12 regrets the error.
"They're totally unrelated, totally different circumstances," Fath said of the Lussier and Chosa cases.
Still, Fath and Weiss developed a plan to prevent any inmates from being let go early again. It is now mandatory for two supervisors to sign off on release dates, staff went over the policy review change, and a jail list with release dates will go out to all probation officers and local police. The sheriff's office had stopped sending that list and, instead, was only posting it online after a software change about three years ago.
"Obviously people are very aware of what happened and nobody wants to have that to happen again," Fath said.
Chosa now has a new release date of mid-June. He will need to serve three extra days for the time he spent free last week.