Crime & Justice

LA sheriff seeks help after mistakenly releasing Pasadena murder suspect

Inmate Steven Lawrence Wright was arrested by Pasadena Police Department on April 7, 2011. He was in our custody pending trial for a gang-related murder that occurred in the city of Pasadena on January 19, 2011.
Inmate Steven Lawrence Wright was arrested by Pasadena Police Department on April 7, 2011. He was in our custody pending trial for a gang-related murder that occurred in the city of Pasadena on January 19, 2011.
Los Angeles Sheriff's Department

The Los Angeles Sheriff's Department is seeking the public's help in catching an inmate officials mistakenly released Saturday.

Steven Lawrence Wright, 37, was discharged from the department's inmate reception center Saturday at 12:55 p.m., the department said in a Facebook post.

Wright was being held on murder charges — as well as on a five-day contempt of court issued on Jan. 26, Sheriff's Department Commander Keith Swensson told KPCC. Wright was accidentally released on the contempt-of-court charges once the five days was up. 

The department didn't become aware of his disappearance until Sunday night at 9:30 p.m., Swensson said.

Swensson said that the delay in reaching out to the public with information came from the belief that if Wright knew they were looking for him, he would go on the run. Since they didn't recapture Wright within the first few hours like authorities originally hoped, Swensson said now they are letting the public know. Swensson also said Wright should be considered armed and dangerous. 

Erroneous releases are something that happen, according to Swensson, but in the case of a murder suspect the search receives heightened attention from authorities. 

Swensson said that, in 2015, there were 117,000 inmates released, with six being mistaken releases. There were 20 such releases in 2013, including murder suspect Johnny Mata.

“Any time we make a mistake, that hurts morale, but at the same time we consider this to be an opportunity to learn from our mistakes, and make sure something like this doesn’t happen again,” Swensson said.

Currently, L.A. County sheriffs are working with the Pasadena Police Department to take Wright back into custody. 

“We are going to be relentless in our pursuit of recapturing him,” Swensson said. 

"The Sheriff’s Department takes this matter very seriously and is fully engaged with returning Inmate Wright to custody, aggressively pursuing a number of leads as to his whereabouts," a post online said. "In addition, with all erroneous releases we will conduct a critical incident review to make necessary improvements to the system."

Wright had been arrested in Pasadena in April 2011 for a gang-related murder that took place in January of that year. 

The department is asking anyone with information to call their Major Crimes Bureau at (562) 946-7231. You can also leave information anonymously by calling "Crime Stoppers" at (800) 222-TIPS (8477).

This story has been updated.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Keith Swensson's name. KPCC regrets the error.