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Accused dump truck thief accidentally released from jail

ST. LOUIS - There's finger pointing and confusion between St. Louis law enforcement as the suspect in a high-profile police pursuit was released from before prosecutors could charge him.

The St. Louis Circuit Attorney's Office issued the charges against 39-year-old Joseph MacDonald on Thursday. However, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department City Police Department said those charges were issued "at large" because MacDonald was released prior to warrants being issued.

The incident unfolded in Washington County, Missouri. According to the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, a foreman at a work yard in Potosi contacted authorities to report a stolen vehicle.

The foreman said when his crew showed up to work, they noticed a rented dump truck and trailer filled with tools and equipment had been stolen. The truck was equipped with GPS, so they were able to locate the stolen truck.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office alerted other law enforcement agencies that the truck was on the move and headed towards the St. Louis area.

The truck made it to Jefferson County and the driver ditched the trailer in Imperial. It was also equipped with GPS and later located by the Jefferson County sheriff’s deputies.

Police said MacDonald drove northbound on Interstate 55, onto I-255, and across the Jefferson Barracks Bridge.

The truck exited onto Route 15 in East St. Louis, where it could be seen traveling in the wrong direction before heading onto the Eads Bridge.

Back in Missouri, MacDonald went south on I-55 into Soulard and turned down an alley near Pestalozzi Street and S. 13th Street, where he ran into a dumpster. He then abandoned the truck in the alley.

At one point, it appeared MacDonald went into a house and came out wearing a black jacket.

MacDonald could be seen casually walking through the neighborhood and right past a police car. The officer began to follow MacDonald, who then ran from the area. He made his way onto I-55 and ran in front of a St. Louis City Forestry Division truck and jumped onto the side of the moving vehicle.

After climbing over the barrier wall, MacDonald attempted to carjack a white SUV at Cherokee and S. 2nd streets. He got into the passenger seat of the vehicle moments before police surround the vehicle and took him into custody.

You'd think he would be jailed on the charges of assault, resisting arrest and tampering with a motor vehicle, but he's not.

MacDonald got his mug shot taken, but was released by authorities and it's now a question of who let him go.

St. Louis police released the following statement:

Relative to the arrest of Joseph Macdonald, a 39-year old white male, for Tampering 1st; he was arrested on 5/30/18 at 12:00PM. The officers arrived at the Circuit Attorney’s Warrant Office and signed into the log book on 5/31/18 at 9:44AM.

At 11:45AM a processing clerk called the CAO to inquire as to the status of the case. He was advised there was a "back log" and the officers were still in the waiting room. He again called at 12:10PM and checked on the status of the case. He was again advised the officers were still waiting to speak with an attorney due to the "back log" and it would be " a while.

At 1:00PM MacDonald was released from the Justice Center due to a 24-hour violation and having heard no word from either the officers or the CAO staff.

A short time after the offender was released, the officer arrived at the Justice Center with the warrant application signed by a Circuit Attorney issuing charges. The time the attorney wrote when he signed was 12:55PM. Already 55 minutes after the suspects 24 hours was up.

The St. Louis Circuit Attorney's Office released this statement in response:

Mr. MacDonald was arrested at noon, Tuesday, May 30th. Police have 24 hours to apply for charges before a suspect has to be released from custody, by law.

We have an established process in the Warrant Office that allows us to prioritize warrant applications when an SLMPD officer informs our staff that there is a time sensitive matter that needs to be addressed immediately regarding the custody of a suspect.

The officer arrived in the Warrant Office at 9:45am on May 31st. The officer did not alert our staff that there was a time sensitive matter that needed to be addressed immediately. (There is signage outside the office that directs officers to inform the staff of time-sensitive issues.)

The Circuit Attorney’s Office received a call at 11:45am from prison processing to determine the status of the warrant application. We immediately moved the case to the front of the line. Prosecutors began reviewing the evidence to ensure the proper charges were filed and the law was followed. A complaint was issued by the CAO at 12:31pm and a warrant was issued at 12:56pm.

Despite the large volume of cases processed in the office Thursday, prosecutors moved as quickly as possible within the limited time provided by police to issue charges. Police have a responsibility to provide appropriate time for prosecutors to review the evidence and charges, to ensure we are not violating someone’s constitutional rights.

It is unclear why officers did not bring these charges to the CAO on Wednesday afternoon when they had the defendant in custody before the Warrant Office closes. Police could have also requested that a prosecutor remain late on Wednesday.

The police department has an obligation to follow established protocols and partner with prosecutors to ensure dangerous suspects are not inadvertently released from custody. The speed at which Mr. MacDonald is taken into custody is outside of the control of the Circuit Attorney’s Office at this time.