Accused killer walks in Delco slammer snafu

Cameras catch the surrender to police of Taaqi Brown, a murder defendant who apparently was accidentally released from prison instead of his also- imprisoned brother.
Cameras catch the surrender to police of Taaqi Brown, a murder defendant who apparently was accidentally released from prison instead of his also- imprisoned brother.
Posted: June 16, 2010

It wasn't "Prison Break" but, rather, prison breakdown in Delaware County Monday night, when a murder suspect was accidentally set free from the George W. Hill Correctional Facility.

In an equally astonishing move, the prisoner, Taaqi Brown, who could face life in jail if convicted of first-degree murder, turned himself in yesterday and willfully went back to prison less than 24 hours after he was released.

Now detectives are investigating if Brown's release was the result of human error or, perhaps, the result of careful, human calculation.

Upper Darby Police Superintendent Michael Chitwood, whose department arrested Brown, 21, last year in the murder of 19-year-old Aaron Kearney, said he got the call about Brown's release about 10 Monday night.

"My first reaction was 'What the f---!' It's not like he's in for DUI," Chitwood said. "My second was to ask 'How did this happen?' "

Chitwood said he was later informed that Brown's brother, Taariq Brown, 23, who also was at the prison, was supposed to be the inmate released yesterday. When he was released instead, Taaqi Brown, of Germantown, called his girlfriend, who picked him up, Chitwood said.

Brown's taste of freedom sent officers from numerous agencies on an all-out manhunt yesterday.

But about 11 a.m., Brown's father contacted an inspector he knew in Philadelphia's Northwest Detectives and said his son wanted to surrender, according to police.

Chitwood said Brown and his father were worried that he'd be shot to death by cops.

"It was the best thing for me to do," Brown told NBC 10, which rode with him as he surrendered. "I would hate for police to run up on me and feel as though I'm armed or I got a weapon on me."

Brown maintains his innocence in the video and in a surreal, media-saturated moment, was recorded listening to a KYW Newsradio broadcast about his "escape."

Brown is charged with shooting Kearney to death in broad daylight on a crowded Upper Darby playground on May 2, 2009.

Delaware County District Attorney G. Michael Green said Brown would face an additional charge of escape because he knew that he should not have been released and did not speak up.

He acknowledged that someone should have noticed that Taaqi Brown was in jail without bail, that he was in 22-hour lockup and that he wore a different-colored jumpsuit - red - to denote his alleged violent crime.

"There were an obvious number of indicators that should have set off bells and whistles," Green said.

Prison Superintendent John Reilly Jr. said it was too early to determine whether Brown's release had been an accident or perhaps an inside job.

"We can't rule out that these two didn't try to orchestrate it," Reilly said. "I can't rule out that they didn't get the records girl to submit Taaqi Brown's data as a discharge."

County detectives were planning to interview the 23-year-old records clerk who was hired three months ago, as well as corrections officers and "anyone in the prison that could have facilitated the discharge process," Reilly said.

Even though the brothers' names are similar, the records clerk should have noticed that they had a different inmate number, birth date and court-identification number, he said.

"This could have been a colossal mis-hire," Reilly said. "If that's what it is, we'll address it."

The George W. Hill Correctional Facility is the only privately run county prison in the state. Last year, New Jersey-based Community Education Centers (CEC) replaced the GEO Group as prison operator. The records clerk is an employee of CEC.

From 2002 through 2004, three inmates were mistakenly released from the county prison.

In one instance, a 6-foot-4, 250-pound black man named Markish Thomas was released instead of a Mike Thomas, a 5-foot-10, 165-pound white man with blond hair and blue eyes.

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