CHATHAM CO., Ga. (WSAV)- The search is still on tonight for a convicted rapist who was mistakenly released from a Tatnall county prison.
He was convicted for aggravated child molestation and rape — and has been serving time since 20-15.
Tony Munoz-Mendez escaped on Friday at 11:30 in the morning. Now, many are wondering how an inmate who’s supposed to be serving a life sentence was simply set free.
It all started when Jose Lopez-Perez, was set to be released after serving time for a DUI and other traffic charges.
Instead, the ticket to freedom went to a man with the same first and last name, but very different charges.
Jose Maria Perez, 20, convicted of rape was mistakenly released on February 6th, 2018.
“We had an inmate swap armbands with another inmate back there and the procedure that we had in place back then wasn’t what we call a good procedure,” said Sheriff John Wilcher. “So we had changed it around.”
Wilcher said it all comes down to protocol. Officers are supposed to check the date of birth, social security numbers, height, and a special in-house bracelet before releasing an inmate.
In this case, that standard process didn’t happen.
Now, “we ask the same questions to the same person two times in a row to make sure we got the proper person,” said Wilcher. “Also we pull up his picture in the computer system and we can look and see is that you or is that somebody else.”
But, Wilcher understands that the protocol isn’t foolproof and he wants to do more.
“This year in the budget I put in for a new scanning system that we can actually put, it’s a bracelet we put on them and then we take a scanner and scan it to see if that person matches what its the scanner,” he said.
Maria-Perez was returned to the Chatham County jail 10 days after he was mistakenly released.
“In my career, we’ve only had two of what you want to call escapes from here and we’ve got both of them back,” said Wilcher. “One of was 15-20 years ago we found him in New York he’s still in the penitentiary and this gentlemen we got last year is too.”
Two officers involved in Maria Perez’s release were suspended one week without pay.
Authorities in Tatnall county said they are doing everything in their power to put Munoz-Mendez behind bars. Currently, the Georgia Department of Correction’s Fugitive Unit and US Marshals are assisting in the search. Anyone with information is asked to call 478-992-5111.