York County Sheriff's Office Provides Details On Whitlock Release
York County Sheriff Bruce Bryant says his office is to blame for mistakenly releasing a convicted murderer in February. Bryant had said little about what went wrong until his office issued a vague press release this week that added to the confusion. He appeared to be putting most of the blame on North Carolina prison officials. The sheriff addressed the issue today, and made clear he believes the media is making too big a deal over what happened. Thomas Whitlock of Charlotte was serving his sentence in eastern North Carolina on a 2011 murder conviction when South Carolina authorities picked him up in February. He was driven back to York County to face drug charges there. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to time served. Whitlock was supposed to go back to North Carolina. Instead, he was released and was on the loose for three days. So what went wrong? On Wednesday, the sheriff's office blamed poor documentation and procedures, but was vague on specifics. North Carolina prison officials clearly didn't appreciate the sheriff's report. In response, the Department of Correction released documents that showed they notified South Carolina authorities that Whitlock was supposed to return to prison in North Carolina. So, Sherriff Bryant responded with a press conference. He was clearly exasperated. "Of course, the media would have our community to believe that this was Charles Manson, that this was the Son of Sam," said Bryant. "This was a drug dealer that was involved in a homicide in Charlotte where he and another drug dealer got into a fight and one of them was killed as a result. This wasn't someone to start with who was going to break into people's home and terrorize them." But back to the investigation.Forms were signed by sheriff officials in York County identifying Whitlock as a North Carolina prisoner, but the deputies transporting Whitlock mistakenly handed over those forms to North Carolina prison officials. As a result, the South Carolina jail employees who released Whitlock never got the forms. In the past, the sheriff says they were never really necessary. They just relied on word of mouth. "This is a flaw that we've been doing it the way we've been doing it for many, many years and, by the grace of God, this hasn't happened before," said Bryant. York County Sheriff's Office is changing their procedures. Jail officials will be directly notified if an inmate must return to another prison. They'll put that prisoner's information into a red folder. A new form will also accompany inmates transferring from other facilities. It will indicate in red letters at the top, if prisoners have to return to their original facility.