Officials at several Bay Area law enforcement agencies are bristling at the statewide emergency orders to lower jail populations during the COVID-19 pandemic, with at least one suggesting that releasing some suspects presents a greater public health threat than keeping them jailed.
Two weeks ago, the California judiciary temporarily suspended all bail for defendants charged with misdemeanors and most nonviolent felonies, and the resulting release of suspects awaiting trial for a variety of crimes has some in law enforcement pushing back and calling attention to what they see as a danger to the public.
"Our office opposes the zero bail [policy], and these massive releases of criminals throughout the state will have repercussions for our communities yet to be realized,” says Sgt. Ray Kelly of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, in a statement to the Chronicle. "We can’t forget that behind each case is a crime victim."
But the suspension of bail was done as public defenders and others pointed out the inability of jailed suspects to properly socially distance, and how prisons can be incubators of outbreaks. Indeed, Santa Rita Jail in the East Bay has already had an outbreak that infected 16 inmates, and two inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 in the San Francisco County Jail system.
More stories are emerging this week about specific suspects being cited and released after some eyebrow-raising alleged incidents. Today we learn that a serial burglary suspect, 34-year-old Kristopher Sylvester of Fremont, is one of those with a long criminal history who's just been set free from Santa Rita. As SFGate reports, he was "arrested by Fremont detectives on April 2 for allegedly committing multiple commercial burglaries, possessing a loaded firearm, evading police and violating his probation." And then he was re-arrested last week by Santa Clara police for an alleged "crime spree" in Santa Clara County.
As the Chronicle reports, another inmate, Rocky Music, was re-arrested for an alleged carjacking "during his walk Sunday from the Santa Rita Jail to the Dublin BART Station."
A third suspect, this one in Sonoma County, was arrested Monday for drug possession, cited, released, and then re-arrested just over 24 hours later on suspicion of vehicle tampering and resisting arrest.
Contra Costa County Sheriff David Livingston, who is the president of the California State Sheriffs’ Association, didn't mince words when he told the Chronicle that these "blanket" releases could "jeopardize public health," and also result in multiple inmates in worse circumstances if they become homeless.
Chesa Boudin, the new district attorney in San Francisco, was one of many DAs around the country calling for these inmate releases back in mid-March.
"An outbreak of the coronavirus in these custodial facilities would not only move fast, it would potentially be catastrophic," the DAs said in a joint statement.
But SF Sheriff Paul Miyamoto tells the Chronicle that he sees some difficulty in weighing public health and safety concerns against these concerns about jail outbreaks. "We have to make sure we maintain that balance,” he said. “We are in it for the long haul."