By Sharna Johnson: CNJ Staff Writer
A Curry County Detention Center inmate was missing for more than five weeks before court officials were notified, according to the 9th Judicial District Attorney’s office.
Phillip Littlefield, 36, never returned from a medical furlough June 22, according to court records. The district attorney’s office was informed Monday of his absence, District Attorney Matt Chandler said.
A warrant was issued Friday for his arrest and a hearing is being scheduled to address the issue in court, Chandler said.
Jail administrator Leslie Johnson said Littlefield’s whereabouts are unknown.
Littlefield was awaiting trial on multiple charges, including forgery and drug possession, court records show.
Johnson cited a manual inmate tracking system and uncertainty about the length of the furlough as reasons the inmate’s absence slipped the facility’s attention.
She said jail staff have no computerized system to alert them if someone does not check in as directed.
“We were thinking, ‘It’s been a while since we’ve seen him. What happened to him?’ An awful lot of people were processing through here — I wasn’t aware he was supposed to come back that day,” she said.
Littlefield was granted an unsupervised one-day furlough by Judge Stephen Quinn of the 9th Judicial District Court to have surgery in Lubbock. He was ordered to be released at 4 a.m. and directed to return immediately after his surgery, court records show.
Jail officials later discovered Littlefield never went to his appointment, Johnson said. She said the proper authorities were notified when the oversight was discovered.
“The detention center has the duty to the public and the duty to law enforcement to notify them, and we can deal with it accordingly. There is a crack in the system when we get notified (more than 30 days) later,” Chandler said.
Johnson said it is not uncommon for inmates to be on furloughs for a month of more while recovering from medical procedures — which they believed was the case with Littlefield.
He returned from a June 5 furlough, Johnson noted.
Littlefield’s trial is scheduled for Aug. 22, court records show.
Chandler said it’s the policy of his office to object to furlough requests by defendants.
“The DA’s office opposes furloughs across the board because more times than not they abuse the furlough by not coming back,” he said.