Search continues for rape suspect in Savannah after accidentally being released

CHATHAM CO., GA (WTOC) - The Chatham County Sheriff's Office erroneously released an inmate charged with rape on Tuesday after confusing him with another inmate with a similar name.

The sheriff's office released Jose Maria Perez who is charged with rape, home invasion, aggravated assault, obstruction, probation violation, burglary and aggravated sodomy. The officers who released Perez also gave him the belongings of the inmate who was scheduled for release. The sheriff's office will be responsible for replacing the inmate's property.

Sheriff John Wilcher said his office suspended two officers without pay for one week for the mishandling. He said he believes the officers made an error when searching through the office's computer system.

"It's our mistake. We own up to it," Wilcher said. "We're not perfect, but we try to be. We try to make sure we dot all our "is" and cross all our "ts. You have to discipline the people who do the wrong things."

Meanwhile, Drew Daniels, the manager of the McDonald's less than a mile down the road, says it's likely he came to grab a bite to eat after being released, as most do. They use the money cards issued to inmates when they're released.

"Every day, four or five times a day," Daniels said, when referring to how often he serves released inmates. "I guess it's just convenient, you know, cause it's right down the road. Most of them don't have cars or whatever, I'm not sure, so they walk down the road and come in here."

Otis Kelly visited the McDonald's Wednesday when he heard the news because he has family that works there every day. He admitted he's scared for their safety. Kelly said, "It's dangerous. My little nephew work's here. He got kids. You know, anything could happen."

Kelly used to also be an inmate at the county jail. He says he is stunned, because his release process was strict and complex.

"Everything. The color of your hair, your height, weight, they take the mug shot. Your picture," he explained. "It's bizarre because everybody got a number. A name tag on their wrist."

Perez is listed as 5'8 and weighs around 165 pounds. The sheriff's office and the U.S. Marshals are searching for him.

"We want to let the public know the sheriff's office made a boo boo," Wilcher said. "We own the thing that we've done."

Anyone with information regarding Perez's location are asked to call 912.652.7710 or Crimestoppers.

The inmate who was supposed to be released on Tuesday is now out of jail on bond. He was being held for a DUI charge and traffic charges.

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