Man slain in Wayne County Jail was 2 days from extradition to Ohio

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Detroit — Antonio James, a 29-year-old man slain in a fight at the Wayne County Jail, died of blunt force trauma to the head, just days before he was to be extradited to Ohio, officials confirm.

His death was ruled a homicide by the Wayne County Medical Examiner's Office. 

James had been awaiting extradition to Ohio since Oct. 15 and was two days away from the move. Judge Deborah Thomas, on the Wayne Circuit bench, approved the request Oct. 15 from authorities in Licking County, Ohio, about 200 miles away.

Antonio James

Early in the morning on Oct. 23, James died. He had been in a fight earlier that day with whom Detroit police described at the time as a 37-year-old inmate.

More:Wayne County Jail inmate, 29, dies after fight

James' death led to a Detroit Police Department investigation into the death, and an internal Wayne County Sheriff's Office probe into whether jail policies and procedures had been followed. Both are ongoing. 

Licking County Sheriff's Office contracted a Nashville-based inmate transportation firm, Prisoner Transportation Services, to handle James's extradition, Capt. Tom Brown said.

When the company called the Wayne County Jail on the Oct. 23 to offer its customary heads-up 48 hours before the pickup, it learned James had died, said a spokesman for PTS.

James faced three felony drug counts between two cases in Ohio, one requiring mandatory prison time if convicted, said Paula Sawyers, a spokeswoman for the Licking County Prosecutor's Office. 

James had just finished a two-year probation period following a plea deal in Wayne County. Between the start of his probation in March 2017 to his extradition order, James was charged with five felonies, covering three cases, in Licking County.

The Michigan Department of Corrections said a violation of probation warrant was issued against James in January 2018 after the department learned of a September 2017 arrest in Ohio for driving under the influence, driving with a suspended license and speeding. 

"In addition to the criminal behavior in Ohio the ... warrant also included his failure to remain drug free, failure to perform community service, failure to pay court-ordered costs, and failure to provide proof of seeking employment," MDOC spokeswoman Holly Kramer said in an email.

James stopped attending his monthly meetings with his probation agent after that warrant was issued, Kramer said. The last one he attended was in December 2017. At that meeting, he tested positive for drug use and "was referred for substance abuse treatment," Kramer wrote.

"It does not appear the MDOC was made aware of any additional criminal charges he was facing out of Ohio," Kramer continued. "We would have filed an amended warrant if that had been the case."

James's probation in Michigan ended on Oct. 2.

In Nov. 2018, Licking County Prosecutor's Office charged James with third-degree aggravated drug trafficking. In February 2019, he was charged with second-degree aggravated drug trafficking and fifth-degree aggravated drug possession. The drug in both cases was oxycodone, Sawyers said.

Sawyers told The News she "didn't believe (Licking County) was aware" that James was on probation in Michigan when warrants for his arrest were issued in Ohio. 

"As a matter of course, we go through our outstanding warrants yearly, for both currently indicted cases and pending indictments and those awaiting arrest on complaints, to find if they're incarcerated anywhere they we can find in the United States."

A search of law enforcement databases, conducted this spring, months after a warrant for his arrest was issued in April, did not list James as a jail or prison inmate, Sawyers said.

"If we don't know where he's at, it would be physically impossible for us to check every probation area," Sawyers said. 

With legal systems in two neighboring states unaware of his legal troubles in the other, it was a bail bondswoman who was able to locate James.

Candace Reeder, of AA Craven Bail Bonds in Utica, Ohio, had a $50,000 bond guarantee riding on James' appearance in court. Reeder found James in the Wayne County Jail during a search of the Vinelink jail database, she said. She alerted the Licking County authorities, who began the extradition process. 

Asked why the bail bonds company didn't pick James up, Reeder said "the jail won't turn him over to us, because we're not officers of the court."

The Detroit Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for information on the legal status of the 37-year-old inmate initially described as a "person of interest."