Hillsborough County (Florida) Sheriff Chad Chronister announced last month that he was dumping more than 100 “low level” offenders onto the public streets to protect his staff and other inmates from the threat of coronavirus.
Among the inmates the Sheriff set free was Joseph Edward Williams, a 26-year-old with an extensive criminal history, which included more than 35 charges.
Williams was being held on two new charges, possession of heroin and possession of drug paraphernalia.
One day after he was sprung, Williams murdered a man, deputies say.
He was rearrested and charged with second-degree murder, resisting an officer with violence, felon in possession of a firearm and, of course, possession of heroin and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Oh, and by the way, a man is dead.
“There is no question Joseph Williams took advantage of this health emergency to commit crimes while he was out of jail awaiting resolution of a low-level, non-violent offense,” Sheriff Chronister said after Williams’ arrest.
Chronister is not the only sheriff to make his problems our problems.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva just booted 4,300 inmates out the door — more than 25% of his entire jail population.
I’m sure Los Angelenos really appreciate this, especially since city officials shuttered all the gun shops after classifying them as nonessential businesses.
To be clear, there are a lot of misdemeanants sitting in county jails who could be released without too much concern. Many are homeless, addicts or mentally ill. Most are incarcerated because they’re unable to pay minuscule bonds — often $100 or less.
I understand that jail and prison officials nationwide are facing a health crisis created by the coronavirus pandemic, especially those in smaller jurisdictions that lack sufficient medical units with negative-pressure cells. And I get that they’re concerned for the safety of their staff — I really do.
However, dumping felons onto the public streets is not the answer, since you can almost guarantee they will reoffend — even ones “awaiting resolution of a low-level, non-violent offense,” as Sheriff Chronister downplayed.
No one in the criminal justice system is armed with a crystal ball. No one knows what a bad hombre will do once they’re released, but you have to draw the line somewhere.
A homeless person who can’t afford a $50 bond for trespassing in a city park after hours — sure, let him go.
But a man who’s already been charged with more than 35 crimes and is only 26 years old?
Certainly he deserved a bit more scrutiny.
Besides, we have enough to deal with nowadays.
I’m worried about the health of my friends and family. I’m concerned about the economy. Hell, I’m worried about finding enough toilet paper.
The last thing I should have to worry about is one of these newly freed bad guys showing up behind my front-sight post in the middle of the night.
Please, sheriffs and wardens, don’t make your problems our problems.
Stop dumping felons, now.