Questions Persist on Deputy Who Turned Away Murder Suspect

A correctional deputy’s dubious decision to turn away a murder suspect last week placed Santa Clara County’s troubled jails in the national spotlight. Findings from an internal investigation into what exactly happened that day have still not been made public.

Hugo Castro, 28, walked into the lobby of San Jose’s Main Jail on Monday, Oct. 26, ready to make a shocking admission and lead authorities to his ex-girlfriend’s dead body. Instead, he was casually dismissed and told to try his luck at a nearby police station.

Luckily, Castro obliged and turned himself in again down the street. But the incident is just the latest mistake for a jail already under heightened scrutiny after the fatal beating of a mentally ill inmate, murder charges against three guards involved in that incident and two more guards arrested for unrelated charges.

Assuming Castro came in on a court order, a jail clerk ran his name, found no record of a warrant and summoned a correctional deputy. The alleged killer told the deputy that he wanted to speak in private, then slipped the clerk a handwritten note through a glass window saying he knew the location of a dead body.

Instead of questioning him, the jail employees told the would-be confessor to take the matter up with the San Jose Police Department. He complied, walking unaccompanied to the nearby police station away for a do-over.

The victim, Alessandra Barlas, and her suspected killer, ex-boyfriend Hugo Castro. (Image via Facebook)

The victim, Alessandra Barlas, and her suspected killer, ex-boyfriend Hugo Castro. (Image via Facebook)

At the police station, Castro handed over the same note and was placed under arrest on suspicion of killing his ex-girlfriend, 27-year-old Alessandra Barlas.

Police found her stabbed, strangled body exactly where the note said it was: on a bed in a downtown apartment. They booked the suspect on a murder charge at the same jail that turned him away.

During his alleged confession, Castro told police about his failed surrender at the jail a few blocks away.

The Sheriff’s Office, which oversees the county Department of Corrections, said that despite mention of a dead body, Castro didn't make it clear that he was actually connected to a crime. Still, the agency reassigned the dismissive deputy and launched a probe into the incident.

“If the initial findings are true, then the custody deputy failed to meet the expectations of the department and we’ll take appropriate action to deal with the deputy,” Sheriff Laurie Smith said in a statement last week.

County jails have come under heightened scrutiny in recent months after a mentally ill inmate’s fatal beating and the arrest of three correctional officers on suspicion of murder. In response to public outrage over the inmate’s killing, the county assembly a “blue ribbon” commission to investigate custody operations.

Castro, for his part, was denied bail and ordered back to court for a Nov. 16 arraignment.

Meanwhile, friends and family of Barlas have started a crowd-funding drive to raise money for the woman’s funeral. By Monday, donors had tripled the fundraising goal, surpassing $15,000.

Alessandra Barlas. (Image via GoFundMe)

Alessandra Barlas. (Image via GoFundMe)

Jennifer Wadsworth is a staff writer for San Jose Inside and Metro Newspaper. Email tips to [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

6 Comments

  1. Obviously out of his jurisdiction!
    I had the same problem a few years back after my car was broken into at the Cal-train and VTA. station on Hwy 87 in San Jose. It took three days to find out that the parking lot is only covered by the San Mateo County Sheriffs Dept.
    So if you kill some one out there, you get an automatic three day head start!

  2. Be tough on crime. Don’t be mean to criminals. Use your gun to protect victims. Don’t use your gun unless absolutely necessary. Walk a tightrope. Walk on eggshells. Don’t walk unless you’ve read the department manual first.

    I am surprised more confessed killers are not being turned away. Cops today do not get paid enough to handle the demands made on them. The jail should hire rocket scientists instead.

  3. Why are people criticizing this deputy? He did exactly the right thing, particularly if he was of a race different than that of the suspect. The deputy was simply practicing sensitive, caring “conflict avoidance” by not approaching the suspect and putting himself in a position where he might have to take action to stop the suspect from leaving should the suspect change his mind, or creating a situation where he might have to make an arrest, with potentially disastrous results if he ended up having to use force to effect it. Deputy’s careers matter!

    I don’t believe that SJPD should have done anything either, other than send the suspect to the Independent Police Auditor’s office. There, the suspect could air his feelings, have his needs met, experience transparency, and then have his hair and make-up done and his wardrobe chosen so he could then get a professional photographer, as well as at least a dozen idiots with cell phone cameras and YouTube accounts, to film the arrest after the IPA gives permission for it to occur.

    People like the IPA constantly pound on cops for DOING their jobs and now accuse them of NOT DOING it too? Let the IPA arrest the guy and we’ll film that. The IPA can give SJPD a call if they need a hand. I’m sure some patrol officer, with a camera, will be able to respond, from the other end of town, working mandatory overtime, after a normal 10 hour shift. The important thing is that the suspect’s feelings not be hurt, he is not “profile stopped’ due to “implicit bias”, that he is treated with sensitivity and no one above the rank of sergeant is politically embarrassed.

    DEPUTY’S CAREERS MATTER!

  4. “Hugo Castro, 28, walked into the lobby of San Jose’s Main Jail on Monday…” It’s not San Jose’s Main Jail. It’s the Santa Clara County Main Jail. You got it right in the first paragraph and wrong in the second paragraph. How does that happen? Also, It’s the SCC Department of Correction; no “s”. “County jails have come under heightened scrutiny in recent months after a mentally ill inmate’s fatal beating and the arrest of three correctional officers on suspicion of murder.” Which other counties’ jails have come under scrutiny? Oh, did you mean to say “Santa Clara County’s jails have come under heightened scrutiny…”? In response to public outrage over the inmate’s killing, the county assembly a “blue ribbon” commission to investigate custody operations.” What is “the county assembly”, a new governing body? Oh, you must have meant to say “the county assembled.” More sloppy writing, more sloppy editing.