Luzerne County taxpayers on the hook for missing inmate earring

By Jennifer Learn-Andes - | June 15th, 2016 6:49 pm

Luzerne County taxpayers may be spending $500 for a lost diamond earring.

A new invoice report says the county is issuing the payment to Freeland resident Jeffrey Harris as compensation for an earring “lost during booking” at the county prison.

County Councilman Rick Williams questioned the expenditure at Tuesday’s council meeting and requested additional explanation.

Interim County Correctional Services Division Head James Larson provided this account Wednesday:

Harris contacted Larson shortly after his April prison release to report he had never received his diamond earring.

Larson conducted an internal investigation.

Jewelry is prohibited behind bars.

When inmates are booked, prison protocol requires employees to document if earrings or other jewelry contain stones, including unverified clear stones that may be diamonds.

All jewelry with stones must be placed in a sealed and labeled envelope and deposited in a safe in the supervisor’s office.

In the case of Harris, who entered the prison in September, the officer noted an earring was in Harris’ inventory but did not specify that it had a stone.

Jewelry without stones must be placed in separate plastic bags that are then kept inside a bag with other belongings in an inmate property room. Clothing worn by inmates upon arrival is stored in another room.

Larson said he will continue to investigate but does not suspect theft.

“In this case I do not think it was stolen because everything else was there, and the officer signed that there was an earring and did not indicate there was a stone,” he said.

The other belongings returned to the inmate were a watch and wallet, he said.

It’s also possible the earring fell out, Larson said.

“It’s so small, and we have over 400 inmates in and out of the prison system monthly,” Larson said.

The clothing and property rooms are “always full,” requiring periodic purging of items that were never claimed by released inmates to free up space, Larson said.

Larson informed Harris he would need proof of the jewelry’s value to process his claim.

Harris said he paid $400 for the earring from a Hazleton area jewelry shop but can’t obtain documentation because the shop closed in 2013.

As a substitute, Harris provided a verbal description of his earring to another local jewelry business — Larson declined to name it — valuing the earring at $1,200.

Larson said he expressed skepticism the earring was worth that much and made it clear to Harris he would not receive $1,200.

Larson turned the claim over to the prison business office, which worked with the county solicitor’s office.

He said he was surprised to learn about the invoice at Tuesday’s meeting because he was not informed a final payment amount had been determined.

The payment to Harris had not been issued as of Wednesday morning.

Before Harris is paid, the prison will require him to sign a document relinquishing all further claims involving the earring, Larson said.

Larson said he was informed a payment to Harris won’t be covered by the county’s insurance because there is a $10,000 deductible.

Harris, who could not be reached for comment Wednesday, has a pending petition in county court seeking the return of other personal property submitted as evidence in his trial, court records show.

These items: a black leather motorcycle jacket, black riding boots and black leather chaps — all Harley Davidson — and a folding buck knife and black leather knife sheath

Harris, who is representing himself, said in the filing he was found guilty of resisting arrest, cocaine possession and use of drug paraphernalia in a jury trial in September 2014 and was released on parole April 6.

The seized items should not remain in custody because the state Superior Court upheld the county ruling and he has exhausted all appeal options, he wrote.

A hearing on his petition is scheduled for July 11 in county court.

The charges against him stem from a 2012 incident in Hazleton.

An earring is missing from the Luzerne County Correctional Facility in Wilkes-Barre, and the discharged inmate who owned it said it contained a diamond. earring is missing from the Luzerne County Correctional Facility in Wilkes-Barre, and the discharged inmate who owned it said it contained a diamond. Sean McKeag | Times Leader

By Jennifer Learn-Andes

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.