- Associated Press - Friday, August 15, 2014

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Two state attorneys have retired under threat of being fired and two others were suspended because of miscalculated sentences that allowed hundreds of inmates to leave prison before they should have, Gov. Dave Heineman said Friday.

Department of Correctional Services general counsel George Green and associate legal counsel Sharon Lindgren chose to retire from their jobs rather than be fired, Heineman said.

The announcement came during an investigation into the improper release of hundreds of inmates, including serial burglars and gang members. Emails released by the state revealed that department officials were aware of two Nebraska Supreme Court rulings that outlined how they should have calculated the sentences.

“As I have stated, those responsible for these miscalculations will be held accountable,” Heineman said at a news conference to announce the decision. “Their actions were inappropriate, inexcusable and irresponsible.”

Nebraska Department of Correctional Services director Michael Kenney said Green and Lindgren were notified of the state Supreme Court rulings by the attorney general’s office, but did not follow the advice or notify the director.

“It wasn’t an action someone took - it was an action that people failed to take,” Kenney said.

In addition, department records administrator Kyle Poppert was suspended without pay for two weeks. Associate legal counsel Kathy Blum was suspended without pay for one day. Kenney did not provide specifics of their actions, but said both shared some responsibility for the incorrect sentences.

“Blum and Poppert received less harsh sanctions because they were found to be … less culpable for mistakes being made,” Kenney said.

Emails also show that another former prison records employee, Jeannene Douglass, told Green and Poppert that recalculating the sentences to comply with the Nebraska Supreme Court would create a “real mess” and not serve the prisoners’ best interests. Douglass retired before the sentencing mishap came to light.

Kenney said his decision was based on an investigative report by a hired Lincoln law firm, which Heineman said will be released publicly once the full investigation is complete. It wasn’t clear whether other employees would face discipline, although the governor said officials would act on any new information that surfaces.

Heineman and Attorney General Jon Bruning announced earlier this month that they had requested a separate criminal investigation by the Nebraska State Patrol and the Lancaster County attorney’s office in Lincoln. Bruning has said his office wasn’t aggressive enough in following up to ensure the court rulings were followed.

Phone messages left for Green and Blum were not immediately returned Friday afternoon. A listed phone number for Lindgren was not in service, and Poppert’s number was not listed.

Kenney said the employees all have the option to appeal the decisions. To impose the sanctions, state officials were required to go through a formal administrative process because all of the employees are granted special protections under the law.

Green, 62, earned an annual salary of nearly $109,900. Lindgren, 63, received more than $86,700 a year. Poppert, 52, is paid roughly $52,700 annually, and Blum, 56, makes nearly $92,000 a year.

Heineman said Green and Lindgren will not receive a severance, but are legally entitled to their accumulated vacation pay, one-fourth of their sick leave and their retirement pay.

Heineman said Friday that he still had confidence in Kenney, who assumed the director’s job in September. Kenney replaced former director Bob Houston, who retired in the wake of several deadly incidents involving inmates and former prisoners. One of the most high-profile case involved Nikko Jenkins, who killed four people in Omaha last year after he was released from prison.

The miscalculated sentences were corrected earlier this summer. Most of the sentences that needed to be extended applied to inmates who never left prison, but were scheduled to be released before they should have been. State officials have said they aren’t seeking to incarcerate 257 people released to the community early whose correct release dates have already passed. Of the 41 others released early, all but one has been returned to prison or allowed to participate in furloughs or other release programs.

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