NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — Officials from Hampton and Newport News let a murder suspect go free, and 10 On Your Side discovered it was a systematic failure that allowed it to happen.
Eric Nixon was charged with murder and nine other felonies when he was released from Newport News City Jail on October 9.
“I said, ‘I’m going to Hampton.’ They said, ‘No. You’re going home,'” Nixon told WAVY.com in a phone interview.
On October 21, Newport News Sheriff Gabe Morgan told WAVY.com his jail staff knew something wasn’t right: “Mr. Nixon told us, ‘hey I’m not suppose to be released.’ Normally bad guys don’t tell us that … it was a red flag … absolutely, absolutely.”
But Morgan quickly changed his position on the incident during the internal investigation into Nixon’s wrongful release, beginning the blame game rampant throughout the whole incident.
“I was never made aware of his pending charges in Hampton, nor were my deputies, other than a vague handwritten notation reading ‘Hampton Criminal Court,’ Morgan wrote in the summary of his internal investigation.
Sheriff Morgan sent WAVY.com a screenshot of documentation he entered on October 9 about a phone call between Newport News Deputy Robert Allen and his Hampton Sheriff’s Office counterpart. Morgan wrote that at 4:16 p.m., Allen called Hampton and was told, “No charges in Hampton. No pending per Hampton records dept.”
But the Hampton City Jail administrator, Major Steven Rich, told WAVY.com they never got a call: “They did not call us. They can put it in their system, but they did not call us.”
Indeed, Hampton phone records show no calls were received from the Newport News City Jail on October 9, and Newport News phone records show the only call made from Deputy Allen’s desk was to an 804 area code — nothing to Hampton.
So during his investigation, Morgan needed to explain why calls to Hampton weren’t recorded. That’s when he hired a consultant, telephone-line expert Arthur Vandegrift, who is a former Newport News City employee.
“The only reason I can come up with that certain calls aren’t being recorded is call collision,” Vandegrift said. “I’m not saying that’s what happened in the case of your tests, but it is possible since we’re dealing with data.”
Basically, Vandegrift says there may have been too many calls for the old phone system to record, and that’s what Morgan wrote down in his internal investigation: “Our internal investigation concluded that actual calls can fail to be captured in phone records, as confirmed by Mr. Vandegrift.”
But the Hampton Sheriff’s Office is not without blame either. They transferred Nixon from Newport News Juvenile Detention to the Hampton City Jail without a signed order by a judge, which is required. But it appears transfers often happened without that order.
Major Rich wouldn’t let Nixon in the jail because there wasn’t a judges order demanding it. The problem is, Rich’s office had the Request for Transfer faxed by the Juvenile Detention Center, which listed the ten felonies Nixon faces in Hampton. But Major Rich never called the man requesting the transfer, Jonathan Robinson at the Hampton Court Services Unit. Had he made the call, Robinson would have been reminded there was no judge’s order to put Nixon in the Hampton jail.
WAVY.com asked Rich back in October if he took responsibility for that.
“We had no documentation,” Rich said.
10 On Your Side reminded him he didn’t need documentation — he had law enforcement knowledge that Nixon had been indicted in his court system on ten felonies. The charges were stated on the request for transfer.
Instead, it appears Major Rich transferred his problem to Newport News where there was a judge’s order on an unrelated assault and battery charge. 27 days later, Nixon was released from the Newport News jail after a Judge heard the assault and battery case and released him.
The summary of Sheriff Morgan’s investigation faults Robinson at the Hampton Court Services Unit.
Robinson was on leave and refused returning WAVY.com’ phone calls, but we did find one of Robinson’s colleagues, who would not identify herself, but said the Court Services Unit and Robinson did nothing wrong: “We do not issue orders, judges issue orders.”
While that is true, the Hampton Circuit Court Clerk’s office confirms Robinson did call them, but he only went half way. Robinson never put in writing a request for a judge’s order to put Nixon in the Hampton City Jail.
Sheriff Morgan’s investigative summary states it was Robinson who got the right paperwork to get Nixon behind bars, once the mistake was realized that Nixon had been released: “Mr. Robinson advised he was having an intake officer prepare the paperwork at that time to commit Nixon to the Hampton City Jail.”
So Robinson is able to do what needed to be done, and that is get the paperwork to commit Nixon to the Hampton jail.
“In hindsight, I wish Hampton Court Services would have ensured everyone would have had the correct paperwork,” Morgan wrote in the summary.
10 On Your Side went looking for Hampton Sheriff B.J. Roberts at his office, but found his Col. Karen Bowden. She told us, “… the Sheriff will not be conducting an interview.”
WAVY.com wanted to ask Sheriff Roberts why his office transferred Nixon from Newport News Juvenile Detention without a signed commitment order from a Judge, which is required. Turns out, 10 On Your Side’s investigation led to a change within the Hampton Sheriff’s Office. Hampton Sheriff Spokesperson Lt. Alonzo Cherry emailed us: “We have since required our deputies to have a committal order to transport.”
In addition, the Newport News Juvenile Detention Center Spokesperson Kim Lee said, “We have had an initial meeting with all those involved to clarify what we need before we release a juvenile … since the Nixon incident, Hampton is coming to the center with a judge’s order to transfer someone to the Hampton jail.”
Lee confirms one case has already occurred that way. It appears everyone is finally getting on the same page.
As for Eric Nixon, he is in a local jail awaiting his scheduled murder trial on March 3. For the record, it was Eric Nixon and his mother, Alfreda Mc Coy, who did the right thing and turned Eric into the Hampton City Jail once Newport News turned him loose.
“There was no doubt in my mind what the right thing to do was,” McCoy told WAVY.com in October.