The man President Joe Biden has picked to lead U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement attempted to get 1,500 inmates – including violent felons – released from the county jail he ran in Texas.
The Washington Free Beacon reported that Harris County, Texas, sheriff Ed Gonzalez filed an emergency request to a federal court asking to release about 1,500 inmates from the county jail, which he ran. Gonzalez claimed the prison was overcrowded, even though it had an inmate population of 9,000 at the time – 1,000 less than the number of inmates housed in 2018. Many of the inmates included in the release request were violent felons, according to court records reviewed by the Free Beacon.
Harris County, which includes Houston, had been facing a massive spike in crime when Gonzalez made the request in January. The county had seen homicide cases increase by 25% since 2015, with assault cases nearly doubling, according to Harris County Justice Administration statistics.
Gonzalez petitioned the Texas Southern District Court in January to try to force the Harris County district attorney’s office to release the prisoners, the Free Beacon reported, adding that the “vast majority of inmates in the jail have been charged with felonies.” Gonzalez in his petition insisted the coronavirus pandemic necessitated the release, but admitted “the current number of inmates and staff testing positive is currently relatively small.”
Still, Gonzalez argued, the prison was overcrowded.
“The jail is bursting at the seams. Something must be done to reduce the population,” he wrote. “Many of the inmates—pre-trial misdemeanors, state jail felonies without holds, other non-violent charges—ought to be subject to release.”
Gonzalez listed 1,500 inmates that could be eligible for release and sent it to the newly elected D.A. Kim Ogg, a progressive. Ogg, according to the Free Beacon, rejected Gonzalez’s list.
“Of the 1,543 defendants on the list sent to the district attorney by the Harris County sheriff, 1,148 defendants have an external hold or their pending case is violent,” Ogg wrote. “The district attorney objects to lowering the bail for any of these individuals’ cases.”
Of the 395 remaining inmates on Gonzalez’s list, Ogg wrote they “collectively have 823 pending cases [against them], many of which have a bond greater than $10,000. Many of these multiple arrestees were on bond when arrested for new offenses.”
Ogg agreed to release just 60 of the 1,543 inmates Gonzalez proposed to release, writing that the sheriff’s office omitted details about the inmates. From the Free Beacon:
One of the prisoners on the list, who was charged with misdemeanor assault of a family member, was also facing probation violation and deferred felony charges for residential burglary and had waived bail hearings. The sheriff neglected to note that another inmate on the list, who had been indicted for felony theft, had previously been released on a reduced bond in an ongoing felony forgery case and was facing deportation when he was rearrested. Another prisoner, charged with violent misdemeanor terroristic threat, had previously been released on bond but had it rescinded twice for failing to comply with electronic monitoring.
A spokesperson for the Harris County Sheriff’s Office told the Free Beacon: “Early on in the pandemic, our agency provided the D.A. with a list of incarcerated people who were jailed for non-violent offenses so the D.A.’s staff could look further into their cases to determine whether they should be eligible to await their trials outside of jail. The sheriff did not recommend that all of the people on this list be released.”
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