Dallas sheriff's deputy demoted for letting prisoner carry gun into jail

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by TANYA EISERER and REBECCA LOPEZ

Bio | Email | Follow: @tanyaeiserer

WFAA

Posted on April 11, 2014 at 11:11 PM

Updated Saturday, Apr 12 at 6:58 AM

DALLAS -- A Dallas County sheriff’s deputy’s failure to search a prisoner resulted in the man smuggling a fully-loaded, automatic handgun into the jail’s intake area, according to internal affairs documents obtained by WFAA.

Deputy Reginald Harris was demoted on March 17 after internal investigators found that he was derelict in his duty, the records show. The investigation found that Harris violated rules that arresting officers remain with their prisoner throughout the intake process until they are relieved by a detention service officer and that all prisoners are searched immediately for weapons and contraband upon entering the facility, among other violations.

According to internal affairs records, a bounty hunter who was working for a bondsman had brought in Robert Merrill on the morning of Dec. 12. Merrill was facing a bond forfeiture in a felony violence case.

“Merrill was talking a lot, saying he was sorry for what he did and he just got out of jail,” Harris wrote in his internal affairs statement. “He seemed jumpy. Merrill took off running towards the lobby exit. The bond person ran after him and so did I.”

Harris and several other deputies chased down and captured Merrill. Harris told investigators that once he brought Merrill into the intake area, he “overlooked” searching Merrill.

“My thought process at this time was this person had to have been searched, because he was already handcuffed and in the custody of the bond person,” Harris wrote in his statement.

Surveillance video showed Merrill being escorted in to the central intake area by Harris and another deputy, handcuffed in front. On the video, Merrill is observed with a knit Dallas Stars cap on while standing in line to be processed. Harris is observed walking away from Merrill out of the camera’s view.

“From looking at the video, internal affairs observed arrested person Merrill being left in line without Deputy Harris, and it appears once arrested person Merrill realizes he’s left in line alone, he began looking around the book-in area for a few seconds... Merrill can be seen clearly taking the object from his front waistband area and discreetly putting the object in the knit cap while Deputy Harris and other sheriff’s department personnel walked back and forth in front of him.”

The video showed Merrill walk out of the camera’s view “unescorted and without permission” and then reappear without the knit cap, records show.

A jail trustee discovered the gun while cleaning out the trash and notified a detention service officer, according to the internal affairs records.

Internal affairs investigators also faulted Harris throwing away two crack pipes that he found on Merrill. Harris told internal affairs that he threw them away because Merrill was looking at a felony and, in his mind, the two crack pipes did not matter.

Merrill currently faces a felony charge of unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon, county records show.

Harris can appeal his demotion to the rank of detention service officer.

E-mail teiserer@wfaa.com

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