Texas judge says it’s time to stop the mass release of inmates: ‘Creating a crime bomb in our communities’

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HOUSTON, TX – Herb Ritchie just became my favorite Democrat. The District Court judge just shut the door to the Harris County detention facility where County judge Lina Hidalgo was ordering the release of “non-violent” offenders. 

I used quotation marks intentionally. Here is why. 

According to Breitbart Texas:

“District Court Judge Herb Ritchie (D) issued an order on Friday stopping plans by Harris County to release non-violent inmates charged with felonies.

County Judge Hidalgo (the county’s chief executive officer) issued an order earlier this week to release inmates who do not have a violent criminal history or are not currently charged with a violent crime.

Judge Ritchie serves as the administrative for the state district courts that hear felony criminal cases in Harris County.”

You see, Hidalgo thinks that if one is currently locked up for a traffic warrant, the two convictions for domestic violence, three for aggravated assault and the one for armed robbery are irrelevant to the current situation, which deems one non-violent and therefore released. 

Enter Herb Ritchie. His order states that most of the people locked up in Harris County are there on felony charges, and that the 22 district courts that serve the third largest county in the United States. 

Ritchie contests that the district court judges have exclusive and complete jurisdiction over all issues pertaining to each case. 

“Any Order issued by the  County Judge of Harris County Texas to any Harris County agency, pertaining to bonds and/or release of felony prisoners or probationers assigned to a proper Court of felony jurisdiction is ultra vires, VOID ON ITS FACE and of NO FORCE AND EFFECT,” Judge Ritchie wrote in his court order.

Today’s Latin lesson is to define ultra vires

In essence, what Ritchie is saying is that Hidalgo is acting beyond her legal power or authority.

The Houston Chronicle is, of course, on Hidalgo’s side. 

In an article headlined Expert: Officials playing ‘life-or-death game of rock, paper, scissors’ with Harris County jail, the Chronicle writes:

“After weeks of high-stakes wrangling about reducing the jail population to battle the coronavirus pandemic, just a dozen of about 7,600 inmates have walked out the door of Harris County’s downtown lockup.

The keeper of the jail, Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, is now asking a federal judge to help cut the “Gordian knot” impeding him from addressing a mounting health crisis as infections take root among inmates and staff inside the massive facility.

The problem: in the past week Gonzalez has been trying to act while juggling conflicting orders from three government officials — the governor, the county executive and the chief felony judge.”

Ritchie concluded his order with instructions for Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez.

“It is further ordered that the Harris County Sheriff shall only release a felony inmate in accordance with and pursuant to a valid Bond or other Order of Release signed by a State District Judge of Harris County, Texas, or by a proper court Order form a Court of Appeals or the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals or by a federal court with lawful jurisdiction of a particular Harris County inmate or inmates.”

So what does Gonzales have to say about this?

“Per a Court Order just received, halting any further inmate releases related to County Judge Hidalgo’s Order,” Sheriff Gonzalez tweeted. “This is a legal matter and will wait for further information.”

And people responded. 

So, what is the “crime bomb” being referred to? 

According to Breitbart:

“Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo told Breitbart the blanket release of certain non-violent inmates could add to the spiking burglary crime rate underway after Judge Hidalgo issued the ‘Stay-Home, Work-Smart’ order in March.

‘Right now, burglaries have spiked 20 percent,’ Chief Acevedo told Breitbart Texas in a phone interview. ‘Some people are seeing the shutdown of businesses as a target-rich opportunity. Habitual burglars should not be released.’

The chief said that there needs to be a plan for what to do with habitual criminals that are being released from the Harris County jail under orders from County Judge Lina Hidalgo.

‘What happens to these folks after they are released,’ the chief asked. ‘What is the plan?’

‘You can be humanistic about this,’ he explained, ‘but public health of the greater community must come first.'”

The chief also said that Hidalgo did not discuss with him or get his input on the impact of simply opening the jail doors and allowing criminals to walk back out on the street. 

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Breitbart also cited some examples of violent criminals being released on very little bond prior to the order from Ritchie. Those examples were originally reported by KTRK 13, the Houston ABC affiliate: 

“Kelvin Hawthorne, 18, is accused of punching and choking his girlfriend on Monday. Normally, that kind of crime gets a $1000 bond and often times it’s a personal recognizance bond, which means release from jail on the promise to return.

On Tuesday, a judge granted Hawthorne a $100 bond. He paid $10, had to agree to bond conditions and was released from jail.

Craig Jones, 55, is accused of hitting and choking his wife. He has prior violent convictions. The state requested a $10,000 bond. On Tuesday, a magistrate made it much lower, granting a $300 bond.

Timothy Singleton, 21, also has prior convictions. He was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, after being accused of pulling a gun on his aunt’s neighbor. Singleton was granted a $500 bond, which means $50 would get him out of jail. Normally bond would be at least $20,000.

Tori McFarland, 23, accused of robbery with bodily injury, a violent crime, got out of jail on a $10 bond.”

KTRK also said that one of the judges in these cases told prosecutors that they would not issue personal recognizance bonds to stay in compliance with Governor Greg Abbott’s order, but, she would issue lower bonds to help reduce the jail’s headcount during the pandemic.   

Anticipating that a release agenda could happen, Abbott issued and order strictly prohibiting the release of “any person convicted of a crime that involves violence, or a person currently arrested for such a crime.”

That didn’t stop Hidalgo. 

Enter David Cruz. 

Christian Tristan was a 27-year-old that was shot to death last August, allegedly at the hands of David Cruz.

Christian’s mother, Ruth Tristan, who is still reeling from her son’s death, recently learned Cruz was released on a personal recognizance bond, meaning he didn’t have to pay a dime.

“I don’t know what to think anymore,” she said.

On Wednesday, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez was looking at about 200 compassionate releases older inmates with health problems and non-violent crimes.

The sheriff wasn’t even considering Cruz as a compassionate release.

According to the Houston Chronicle, Cruz, 29, was detained in connection with his friend’s death because he couldn’t afford a $60,000 bond. He asked Judge DaSean Jones to lower his bond to $30,000 and impose electronic monitoring and pretrial supervision.

His lawyer stated in court documents Monday that the current pandemic “is certainly going to strike the Harris County jail population and spread like wildfire among inmates.” If Cruz were released, the lawyer said, he would live with his parents and work as an estimator at the family’s lamination business.

Judge Jones said yes and ordered him to wear an electronic monitoring device. They reported that they tried to contact the judge for comment, but he did not return their calls.

This is not the first time Cruz has been in trouble.

In 2011, Cruz was driving drunk and fled the scene of an accident. He left his 17-year-old friend Anthony Story in the car to die. Cruz was sentenced to five years in prison.

Christian Tristan would have turned 28 next week.

“This is how I celebrate my son’s birthday, by you releasing him,” his mother said. “It’s a slap in the face.”

We can’t imagine.

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