South Carolina

Police ‘boo-boo’ frees man charged with rape, sodomy. He may be in SC

Jose Maria Perez
Jose Maria Perez

The Georgia rape suspect accidentally freed from the Chatham County Detention Center on Tuesday morning could be in Beaufort, officials say.

The inmate, Jose Maria Perez, 20, is charged with rape, home invasion, aggravated assault, obstruction, a probation violation, burglary and aggravated sodomy, according to online police records.

Chatham County Sheriff John Wilcher said on Thursday that Perez remains at large. A tipster told police he could be in Beaufort.

“We got a tip on the tip line, and we have to check out everything,” Wilcher said.

The U.S. Marshals Service also is searching for Perez.

The inmate is listed as 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds in detention center records.

He should be considered dangerous, Wilcher said.

Wilcher explained at a Wednesday news conference that an inmate with a similar name was supposed to be released from the detention center instead of Lopez.

“The Sheriff’s Office made a boo-boo yesterday,” Wilcher said, according to the Savannah Morning News. “We own the thing that we did. The process that we have in place for discharging inmates was not done properly.”

Before an inmate is released, his birth date, Social Security number, height and an identification bracelet are supposed to be checked, WSAV television station reported.

Jose Lopez-Perez, 30, who had been arrested on DUI and traffic charges, should have been released instead, according to WSAV.

His belongings — credit cards, cellphone and $361 in cash — were given to Jose Maria Perez when the wrong inmate was freed, the Savannah Morning News reported.

Jose Maria Perez used one of Jose Lopez-Perez’s credit cards at a McDonald’s less than a mile from the detention center after his release Tuesday, according to the newspaper.

Wilcher told WTOC television station that two officers have been suspended without pay for one week for the mishandling.

He encouraged anyone who sees the inmate to notify local law enforcement immediately. Anyone with information about Jose Maria Perez’s location also may call 912-652-7710.