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Virginia Gardens

Virginia Gardens mayor, residents raise concern about inmates’ release


Special to the Miami Herald

Virginia Gardens’ mayor is seeking curbs on a nearby jail that is releasing inmates at all hours — some of whom are wandering into his town and committing crimes.

“Prisoners are taking the path of least resistance after they are released,” said Mayor Spencer Deno, whose town is located a few blocks east of the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center, 7000 NW 41st St. “We have had transients walk into the village before, but not to this extent.”

A series of barrier fences have gone up in the past few years that appear to herd released inmates from TGK’s front door right into Virginia Gardens.

“We saw what appeared to be a homeless man on our neighbor’s front lawn,” said Virginia Howard, a longtime resident of Virginia Gardens who described the disheveled man, just released from TGK, as appearing to be disoriented. “We were nervous because we didn’t know what he had in his backpack.”

Howard has noticed a lot more people hanging out in front of TGK since the county shut down its intake center at the old Pre-Trial Detention Center, 1321 NW 13th St. These operations were transferred last June to TGK, which currently processes about 240 inmates a day.

“Our town and the county and formed an agreement, in the 80’s, regarding how and when prisoners would be released,” said Deno, though the town has not been able to locate it.

The county, in a response to a public records request from the Herald dated July 17, claims the “document does not exist.”

TGK currently houses about 1,000 inmates, county records show. Over the past four months, the jail has released roughly 29,000 inmates through its doors and back onto neighborhood streets.

A review of local police reports documents run-ins with TGK-related offenders. On July 26, near midnight, a man with a “bad odor” broke into a late-model BMW in Virginia Gardens and tried to drive away in reverse when he spotted police. The man, who told police that he “had orders from the U.S. Secret Service to steal the car,” had recently bonded out of TGK.

Two weeks earlier, another recent TGK detainee was pulled over in Virginia Gardens at 7 a.m. for “cutting in and out of traffic” in a stolen car. Nearby, he had a stun gun, a loaded revolver, a ninja throwing star and two ladies he had just picked up at a strip club.

The man, who has a lengthy rap sheet that includes 11 arrests for cocaine possession, robbery and armed burglary, told police that he bought the car on Craigslist from a person he “didn’t know” who gave him a receipt instead of the title.

Another report shows that a 29-year-old man was spotted peddling a bicycle stolen on July 28 from a VG home. The man, who had an outstanding warrant for drugs, was again charged with drug possession and returned to TGK.

“If we knew ahead of time that this would happen, we would have called our commissioner and complained,” said Howard, who described large groups of men, ages 18-25, hanging out in front of TGK wearing “droopy pants with their underwear showing.” “They are cutting through the neighborhood and looking around.”

Though Mayor Deno empathizes with homeless inmates, he feels that TGK is steering them out its front doors and into his community. This, he says, taxes resources and has neighbors on edge.

“The fence is open at the corner of Northwest 36th Street and 72nd Avenue,” said Deno, who recalled that, in the past, inmates exited out the back on a north road past the Stockade.

Even local businesses are beefing up security, Deno said, due to security concerns.

For example, Boeing, the first business west of TGK, has recently installed an intricate maze of fences to protect its boundaries. The company has placed “no trespassing” signs around its massive perimeter fence and has installed gate-keyed entries and surveillance cameras.

Last year, Boeing announced plans to consolidate its entire North American flight-training division to the 134,000-square-foot building that sits on 7.5 acres across from Miami International Airport.

“They promised us back in the ’80s that they would not release inmates at all hours,” said Deno, a longtime resident who wants to protect the sanctity of his town. “We want them to honor their word.”

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