Broward County

BSO defends its release of man wanted for murder, who is still on the loose

Eric Vail
Eric Vail Broward Sheriff's Office

The Broward Sheriff’s Office on Monday released a timeline of the event’s leading up to the agency’s release of a man wanted for first- degree murder and said “all procedures were properly executed.”

Eric Vail, 28, who was mistakenly released May 30 and has not been seen since, is wanted in the murder of Wadarius Harris on Oct. 26 in West Park. BSO is asking for help in finding Vail, who is 6 feet, 1-inch tall and weighs about 215 pounds. His last known address, which was on his arrest report, is in the 1200 block of Northwest 58th Street in Miami.

“BSO investigators and the U.S. Marshals Regional Fugitive Task Force have prioritized the apprehension of this dangerous criminal,” the department said in a news release Monday.

Vail was released in March 2018 from jail after doing eight years for attempted first-degree murder, battery on detention staff and cocaine possession, records show.

He was arrested Jan. 29 on a first-degree murder charge after detectives say Vail and Christopher Campbell were responsible for the death of Harris, who was shot to death. Arrest records show Campbell and Harris had a running feud.

The next month, in February, the state changed the charge to second-degree murder, BSO said. Then, in April, a grand jury indicted him on a first-degree murder charge. On May 30, prosecutors dismissed the second-degree charge because he was facing the first-degree murder charge.

According to the timeline released by BSO, the department says it never received the paperwork indicating Vail was indicted on a first-degree murder charge. So when the second-degree murder charge was dropped, he was released, BSO said.

“If Department of Detention staff had received a capias, court order or warrant for the Murder 1 indictment at any time prior to his release, Vail would not have been released on May 30,” BSO said.

On Tuesday, the Clerk of Courts said the department never received a directive, which Florida law requires, “from the court or the prosecuting attorney for a capias to be issued.”

“Several internal reviews by the clerk’s office and multiple subsequent meetings with Broward County courthouse stakeholders confirmed that the clerk of court never received such a directive,” the office said in a Tuesday press release. “Consequently, the Broward Clerk of Courts concludes that it followed the Florida statutes, administrative rules, and other applicable law when processing the court records relating to Eric Alexander Vail, Jr.”

Here’s a breakdown from BSO on Vail’s time in custody:

Vail was arrested Jan. 29 on a first-degree murder warrant. He was held without bond.

The next day, Vail faced a magistrate judge and probable cause was found. He remained in jail.

On Feb. 28, the department’s Confinement Status Unit received instructions from the state to change Vail’s first-degree murder charge to a second-degree murder charge. The change was made in the jail database, the department said.

Then, on March 12, the unit received an order from the Broward Clerk of Courts for Vail’s change of charge. BSO was told to prepare Vail to make his first appearance before a judge for the new charge the next day.

Vail refused to go to his arraignment on March 13 for the second-degree murder charge, BSO said. Vail did attend magistrate court for the charge and probable cause was found.

On April 3, a grand jury indicted Vail on a first-degree murder charge, which means he must be held with no bond. BSO said the Clerk of Courts created a new case file for the first-degree murder charge and assigned a new case number. The state’s instruction sheet was filed under the new case number. “Neither the indictment with the no bond hold nor the State’s instruction sheet on this new charge were sent by the clerk’s office to the jail,” BSO said.

The jail received an Excel spreadsheet from the Office of the State Attorney that contained a “data line pertaining to inmate Vail along with data lines pertaining to dozens of other inmates” on April 4. BSO said the file did not “reflect the charge itself or the conditions of bond for Vail nor does it contain any court order to keep him in custody.” BSO said there was no order that detailed changes to the charges and bond information.

The Clerk of Courts electronically transmitted the court docket for April 8 showing that Vail had a court date April 9. “This electronic transmittal is used solely to prepare an inmate for movement to court the following day,” BSO said. “It is not a capias and cannot be used to place a charge on an inmate.”

Vail refused to go to an arraignment April 9 on the first-degree murder charge.

BSO received an electronically transmitted court docket for Judge Elizabeth Scherer May 29 from the Clerk of Courts showing that Vail had a hearing May 30.

Vail appeared before a judge May 30 on “still pending Murder 2 charge,” BSO said. At the hearing, the State Attorney’s Office dismissed the second-degree murder charge. BSO received the dismissal order, and that’s when the release process began, BSO said. The department had no record of the first-degree murder charge, the department said. “The jail cannot place a new charge on an in-custody defendant unless it receives official documentation from the Clerk of Courts describing the charge and the bond status,” BSO said. Vail was released at 7 p.m. May 30.

The Clerk of Courts sent an email to BSO June 3, “stating that no orders or capias have been issued by the court for Vail for the Murder 1 indictment.”

Moving forward, BSO said Monday that the department met with representatives from the courts, State Attorney’s Office, Clerk of Courts to “discuss a comprehensive process that’s more reliable and will help improve the existing system of distributing official court paperwork.”

Anyone with information on Vail is asked to call Broward Crime Stoppers at 954-493-TIPS (8477).

Carli Teproff grew up in Northeast Miami-Dade and graduated from Florida International University in 2003. She became a full-time reporter for the Miami Herald in 2005 and now covers breaking news.