He turned his life around. But the system wanted him back behind bars, after a big mistake

After doing his time and being released from prison, the system wants him back behind bars because of their mistake.
Published: Jan. 30, 2023 at 3:55 AM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - One local man said he completely turned his life around after being released from prison. Then, nearly two years later, he learned he might have to go back behind bars because the system made a mistake.

Tristan Robb is quite used to taking things apart. The 27-year-old runs his own construction company now. He demolishes it, then puts it back together.

People who know him told News 4 Investigates he is kind, reliable and relatable. But several years ago, he was caught up on drugs and a weapons charge, and he went to prison.

“I made a lot of dumb choices,” he said.

“Even in there, I did everything I could, I read self-help books, I got involved in the church, I read up on stocks and real estate, I was studying for my real estate license,” said Robb.

With credit for “good time” in 2021, the feds granted his freedom.

“I was released, I was told I was free to go, assigned a probation officer and released out the doors,” he said.

In the many months since, he’s been building a life with his girlfriend Anna and her son. Not knowing it could soon come to a halt.

“I have literally done everything so I wouldn’t have to do that again,” he said.

He had no idea that’s exactly what he’d have to do. A letter told him he’d been released too soon. A Warren County warrant went now out for his arrest, again.

“I just never thought in a million years I would be back in that situation again,” he said.

“Why did you even let me out? I get out to build my life, only to lose it all,” Tristan said.

The news was devastating to him and Anna.

“To think that’s going to be ripped away from me, it’s gut-wrenching,” Anna said.

“Unfortunately, this happens to a lot of people every year,” said Wandra Bertram.

Bertram, with the Prison Policy Initiative, told News 4 Investigates that clerical errors like this are not uncommon.

“It’s come up before on my radar with my work, and when people are sent back to prison, it does catastrophic damage, it cannot be overstated,” said Bertram.

News 4 Investigates wanted answers about how this could have happened. In Tristan’s case, paperwork should have been filed, sending him back to state custody when he finished his federal time. Our review of court records appears to show that it was never done.

Tristan’s attorney Jeff Goldfarb was concerned by what the Department of Corrections (DOC) was telling him.

“It seemed like their only solution was for him to return to custody,” he said.

He and Tristan started fighting, talking to officials, and even turning to News 4.

“He played an integral role; it was both of us working to get it accomplished,” Goldfarb said.

And lo and behold, earlier this month, a huge relief. After several inquiries, the DOC told News 4 they are quote “not seeking to re-incarcerate the offender.” They further told us he will now “remain on community supervision” or on parole until 2029.

“The state of Missouri is going to be able to keep an eye on him for a very long time,” said Goldfarb.

It was the right outcome, he believed, for Tristan. Now, he’s relieved and back to focusing on work and life. Yet, he is still left wondering if the system might ever repeat his situation.

“This is for a marijuana charge from 2017, from when I was 21 years old,” said Tristan. “What if someone is a serial killer, and you let them accidentally walk out the door?” he said.

We asked for that information, but the DOC said they couldn’t collect that data, so we’ve requested it through a public records request, and are still waiting to get that back.

In the meantime, the warrant for his arrest has been released.