TIPPECANOE CO., Ind. (WLFI) — A Lafayette meth dealer is on the loose after Tippecanoe Superior Court Judge Randy Williams released him and ordered an Indianapolis hospital to contact the Sheriff's office when he was well enough to be discharged.
Last month, Travis Nichols suffered medical issues in the Tippecanoe County jail. Judge Williams released him to an Indianapolis hospital on his own recognizance, otherwise known as "OR".
"When he is OR'd, that means he's on his own," said Tippecanoe County Sheriff Barry Richard.
It's a judge's ruling not typically endorsed by the prosecutor, especially when the inmate is a convicted meth dealer facing up to 30 years behind bars.
"We believe they [felons] are an extreme flight risk and they will not return to custody, that's why we oppose them," said Tippecanoe County Prosecutor Patrick Harrington. "But that is a judge's decision based on the facts presented to him and what the defense attorneys present."
Williams made that decision to release Nichols on Dec. 12. He ordered the hospital to notify the jail when the defendant was ready to be released but that never happened.
"He did not stay there until the release of the doctor and departed the hospital without informing them," said Sheriff Richard.
Local authorities had no idea Travis Nichols even left the hospital until New Year's Eve, when a neighbor called about a suspicious car on South 28th Street in Lafayette. Officers spotted Nichols but said they couldn't arrest him without a warrant.
"Could you have made daily calls to St. Vincent asking, hey, is he still there?" asked News 18's Kayla Sullivan to Richard.
"Now remember, we are dealing with up to 600 inmates that we are responsible for," responded the Sheriff. "And there are just so many responsibilities and so much work being done by corrections officers, transportation officers, bailiffs."
Sheriff Richard said this has happened before to him, prior sheriffs and probably future ones as well. He doesn't believe it's a flaw in the system, rather the responsibility of the defendant.
"There's absolutely no reason or anything to point fingers to anybody," said Richard. "It's an individual who made a poor choice and ultimately, he is going to be brought back into custody and obviously at his sentencing hearing the judge will be aware of the whole circumstance."
When a judge lets a defendant leave on his own recognizance, security isn't required but Richard says when it is, it's expensive.
"Not only is it the money part, it's also your resources," said Richard. "You take that person to have them sit with an inmate that's hospitalized, that means you're taking a deputy off of the road."
Police are still looking for Nichols. They can pick him up now. A warrant was issued for Nichols Thursday.
Harrington has filed a new charge of failure to return to lawful detention against him.
Judge Williams said he cannot comment since this is an open case.