The family of a homeless, mentally ill woman said Thursday the woman is in “bad shape” after she remained locked up in Parish Prison for six months because of a clerical error made by the East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney’s Office.
“We have been told by other family members who have seen her that she’s black and blue,” Libby Poche said, referring to her sister-in-law Melissa Poche.
“I can’t believe any of this happened in the United States,” Libby Poche added.
Melissa Poche, 55, was released Wednesday from the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison, where she has been locked up since her July 22 arrest on four misdemeanors.
The District Attorney’s Office decided in August to dismiss the misdemeanors, but because of a clerical error, only one count was dropped.
As a result, Poche remained in jail an additional six months.
Libby Poche and her husband, David Poche, a pharmacist who is Melissa Poche’s brother, live in Mississippi. They were on their way Thursday to Baton Rouge to see her.
“Melissa has said she was beaten up while she was in jail,” Libby Poche said. “So I don’t know what we’re going to see when we get there.”
Melissa Poche, who was diagnosed in 1992 with schizophrenia and bipolar diseases and also has Type II diabetes, was sent to a hospital for treatment after she was released from jail, Libby Poche said.
She also said Melissa Poche told family members she asked to call them, but was not allowed to make the call.
It’s unclear whether Melissa Poche asked jailers in East Baton Rouge Parish or East Carroll Parish — where she was sent when the local jail was overcrowded — to make a call.
The East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office spent $20 to $25 a day for each of the 118 days Poche was housed in East Carroll Parish Prison, said Casey Rayborn Hicks, a spokeswoman for the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office.
Melissa Poche’s family, most of whom live out of state, have been searching for her since she was arrested and did not know she was in jail until mid-February, Libby Poche said.
“We even reported her missing to the Baton Rouge Police Department’s missing person’s department,” Libby Poche said. “I just can’t understand why they couldn’t find her in jail.”
Libby Poche said she found out her sister-in-law was in the Parish Prison when she searched for names of prison inmates on the Internet about two weeks ago.
After Libby Poche found her sister-in-law, she called authorities in East Carroll Parish and East Baton Rouge Parish to try to get her released.
“I found out that the (counts) had been dropped,” she said. “We couldn’t figure out why she was still in jail.”
She also said Melissa Poche has told family members she asked jailers why she was being held.
“She’s not stupid,” Libby Poche said. “She knew something was wrong.”
East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore said Thursday he met with his eight section chiefs, 48 assistant district attorneys as well as secretaries to ensure a similar mistake does not happen again.
He also said he met with officials from the Sheriff’s Office to try to determine why a “green sheet” had not been attached to the file on Melissa Poche that was sent to the District Attorney’s Office from the Parish Prison after she had been booked.
Moore said green sheets include all the information regarding those who are booked, including such basic information as age, birth date, address and phone number.
He said the green sheet is also supposed to include all the counts filed by the arresting agency — which in Melissa Poche’s case was the Sheriff’s Office.
“But in Melissa Poche’s case, there was only one (count) on the green sheet,” Moore said. “That’s the formal document we look at to determine what she was (booked) with and what (counts) we would have dismissed.”
Moore did say that a narrative included in the file did contain all of the misdemeanors Melissa Poche had been accused of committing.
Hicks dismissed the criticism about the missing green sheet and said the Parish Prison does not make the decision to release inmates.
“The sheriff is not authorized under the law to release those persons until ordered to do so by the district attorney or by court order,” she said.
Moore said that all he wants to do is “get it right.”
“We also hope that Melissa gets the medical care she needs,” he said.
Melissa Poche was arrested July 22 after she tried to buy cigarettes at a convenience but did not have any money.