Former public defender employee pleads not guilty to felony charge

08/13/2014 8:32 PM

08/14/2014 12:29 AM

A former employee of the Merced County Public Defender’s Office pleaded not guilty earlier this week to helping a county jail inmate escape custody last month.

Steven K. Haywood, 29, entered the not guilty plea Monday to a felony count of being an accessory to a crime after the fact. Haywood, 29, entered his plea before Judge Donald Shaver in Merced Superior Court.

Thomas Min, the deputy Merced County district attorney prosecuting the case, said Wednesday it was too early to comment on the case. Haywood’s attorney, Neil Morse, could not be reached for comment.

Haywood is charged with helping inmate John A. Fuentes escape custody July 9. Haywood was working as an extra-help interviewer at the public defender’s office and was transporting three inmates, including Fuentes, from a drug-treatment program in San Francisco back to the John Latorraca Correctional Center, according to a report filed by the Merced County Sheriff’s Department.

Deputies said Haywood allowed the 31-year-old Fuentes, a known gang member with a lengthy criminal history, to leave the transport van and lied to investigators to delay the investigation. Fuentes was captured a short time later.

According to a report filed by Deputy Brankel Nobari, Fuentes had told Haywood he wanted to escape to Mexico to visit his father, who Fuentes claimed was dying. Fuentes allegedly asked Haywood not to immediately notify law enforcement of the escape. Haywood told investigators he agreed to “give him a little time,” the report says.

The report describes Haywood as nervous, sweating and remorseful. At different points during his initial interview with deputies, Haywood reportedly said, “I can’t believe I lied to you guys” and “that was the stupidest thing I had done in my life,” the report says.

Deputies said the incident marked the second time an inmate had escaped from Haywood in as many months. Another inmate, 26-year-old Michael Mirabal, escaped May 19 and was on the run for several hours before he was arrested again. Haywood has not been accused of any wrongdoing in connection with Mirabal’s escape.

Haywood “said the way he justified helping Fuentes was because the last few times this type of incident had happened … when he did notify the required people, it appeared as if they did not care and/or do anything,” the report says.

Haywood remains free on bail. He is due in court Sept. 11 for a hearing.

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