Inmates around the world have been released because of legitimate concern that prisons and jails would be an ideal place for the coronavirus to spread. In the United States the virus spread to nearly 1,000 people at New York’s Rikers Island. Cook County Jail in Chicago has been hit even worse. So the decision to release as many prisoners as possible to reduce the density in the jails is something many state and local officials have been doing.
Last month, Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister announced the release of 164 prisoners from the county jail in response to a judicial order. Hillsborough county is located in Florida and contains the city of Tampa. The Tampa Bay Times reported on the conditions in the jails there at the time.
There are no confirmed cases of the virus among the roughly 2,700 inmates housed at the county’s two jails, on Falkenburg and Orient roads, Chronister said. The jails aren’t facing an overcrowding problem.
But public health officials warn against crowds and close contact and advise practicing social isolation. Civil-rights groups have urged jails to take immediate action to shrink jail populations to reduce the risk of outbreaks. Chief among their suggestions is the release of inmates who have been arrested but not sentenced.
Unfortunately, in this case one of the inmates released that day killed someone the very next day.
Joseph Edward Williams, 26, was arrested Monday in connection with a March 20 murder in the 8000 block of Ash Avenue, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
At about 10:40 p.m. that day, deputies fielded multiple 911 calls reporting gunshots. Responding deputies found a man who had been shot. Authorities took him to Tampa General Hospital, where he later died. In a news release, deputies said they did not believe the shooting was random…
Williams is charged with second-degree murder, resisting an officer, being felon in possession of a firearm and possession of heroin and drug paraphernalia. His bail has been set at $280,500.
For the most part, authorities have tried to release non-violent offenders. In this case, Williams had been arrested on drug charges: “Williams was booked into Orient Road Jail on March 13 for possession of heroin (less than four grams), a third-degree felony, and possession drug paraphernalia, a first-degree misdemeanor.” However, the rest of Williams’ history suggests he was a career criminal: “He was previously convicted of two felony offenses including burglary of an unoccupied conveyance in 2012 and felon in possession of a firearm in 2018, in addition to five misdemeanor convictions. Throughout the course of his criminal history, Williams has been arrested for 35 charges in total.” Although he had a long history of arrests and multiple felony convictions, none of those seem to have involved violence against other people.
Williams is the only one of the 164 inmates released last month to be re-arrested so far. However, something similar happened in Utah. There a man released early from a halfway house and two days later he broke into a woman’s home, tied her up and threatened to kill her:
Joshua J. Haskell, 42, of American Fork, “forcibly entered a home … (and) using a large, serrated knife, he threatened the homeowner and tied her up with shoelaces,” according to charging documents.
The woman told police that she was sleeping when she woke up to the sound of creaking stairs and discovered a man she had never seen before standing in her room holding a knife “raised toward his head with the knife pointing down,” according to a police affidavit.
“The victim began screaming and yelling, at which point the male told her to be quiet or he was going to cut her head off,” the affidavit states…
The woman’s son heard his mother’s screams and called 911. When officers arrived at the house, Haskell was still in the bedroom with the woman. After realizing police were downstairs, Haskell got into the bed with the woman and told her to tell them he was her “lover,” the affidavit states.
Finally, in northern California a man named Jason Gaul who has four past convictions for stealing cars was released last Friday under a $0 bail order designed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in local jails. He was rearrested this week trying to steal another car. The San Joaquin County Sheriff published a video on Tuesday describing his frustration at having been forced to release Gaul, then rearrest him knowing that under the new policy he would only be released again.
Message from Sheriff Withrow
Posted by San Joaquin County Sheriff's Office on Tuesday, April 14, 2020
After Gaul was arrested on Tuesday he was released Tuesday, you’ll never guess what happened next. Yes, on Wednesday he was arrested again trying to steal yet another car:
The Stockton Police Department reports Jason Gaul was arrested Wednesday after being released Tuesday for the second time under a new COVID-19 policy.
Gaul was found in a stolen vehicle and charged with grand theft of an automobile, grand theft during a state of emergency, committing a crime while released from custody on a felony and vandalism.
Police say he does not qualify for a zero-bail release due to his charges.
Thankfully, he’s going to remain in jail this time.