A formerly homeless man with Lake County ties now has long-term housing in the Michigan prison system, but court and police records show it took him a few tries to get there.
And the Lake County sheriff said the tale is similar to that of a growing number of homeless people who commit crimes to obtain shelter, meals or medical treatment inside jails or prisons.
The case of Edward Hammer-Perez, 33, garnered mention in local media and on criminal justice blogs in 2007 when it was discovered he had slipped through the cracks of the Lake County Jail and courts, sitting in the jail for 19 months for the mere crime of shoplifting a bottle of Pepsi from a Schererville retail store.
A mix-up in the spelling of Hammer-Perez's hyphenated last name and his case numbers contributed to the man sitting in jail from his alleged offense date in July 2005 until his release in early February 2007, Lake County officials said. The mistake drew the ire of criminal justice critics claiming the long jail stay violated Hammer-Perez's rights and didn't fit the alleged crime.
But jail apparently is where Hammer-Perez wanted to be, according to police reports in both Indiana and Michigan.
Hammer-Perez had told police he stole the bottle of pop because he was trying to get back in jail after having been released from a state psychiatric hospital, police reports state.
A recent Times search of Michigan prison records revealed Hammer-Perez received his wish of a more permanent stay behind bars several months after his release from Lake County Jail.
On Nov. 3, 2007, Hammer-Perez pulled open the car door of a St. Joseph, Mich., woman parked outside of a video store, grabbed her head and began pulling her hair, Berrien County (Mich.) Sheriff's Department records state.
The alleged assault then ceased long enough for the woman to shut and lock her car door. Hammer-Perez then told the woman to call the police and waited nearby until officers arrived, the Berrien County report states.
When questioned by police, Hammer-Perez said he assaulted the woman, intending to "snap" her neck so he could find a more permanent home in the Michigan prison system, the police report states.
"He advised he is homeless and has committed misdemeanors in the past, but now he needs to commit a murder so he can go to prison. ... He stated South Bend (Ind.) P.D. (Police Department) never took him seriously, so he needed to commit a more serious crime so he could go to prison," the Berrien County report indicates.
Hammer-Perez would go on to plead guilty to a charge of assault with intent to murder and began serving a 40- to 80-year prison sentence in 2008, the Berrien County clerk's office confirmed. Michigan Department of Corrections records show Hammer-Perez will have a state-funded roof over his head until at least Nov. 1, 2047.
Lake County Sheriff Rogelio "Roy" Dominguez said Friday he recalled the Hammer-Perez case and the criticism the county received for keeping an inmate behind bars for much longer than a misdemeanor charge warranted. He also expressed some surprise that Hammer-Perez had pleaded guilty to a more severe crime in Michigan.
"It's unfortunate, but in order to keep from being homeless, we are seeing an increasing number of people committing crimes to end up in jail, especially in the winter months," Dominguez said.
He said most people who fit this category commit minor crimes, and the sheriff's department and the courts attempt to connect the offenders with social services and mental health agencies rather than stiff jail time.
"But so much from social programs has been cut that some people feel the only place to get some help is in the jails," Dominguez added.