San Diego DA fights to keep 100+ inmates in custody amid new bail rule

Posted at 4:38 PM, Apr 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-17 19:45:13-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — San Diego District Attorney Summer Stephan is fighting to keep more than 100 inmates in jail.

Stephan's move comes after an emergency mandate came down from the state to release 500 local low-level offenders to make jail space in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

The fear of a COVID-19 outbreak inside California's jails prompted a drastic emergency bail schedule. On April 6, the State Chief Justice ordered bail to be set at $0 for nearly all misdemeanors and many low-level felonies. That means in San Diego, around 500 inmates are eligible for early release.

"The COVID-19 should not be a get-out-of-jail card," Stephan said. She said the sweeping order could be dangerous.

"It also includes about 11 categories of what are inherently dangerous crimes, like felony elder abuse, child endangerment, pimping, forms of human trafficking, and sale of fentanyl," Stephan said.

Stephan said her office was anticipating such a mandate. So in late March, they executed their version of early release. Around 1,200 low-level offenders, people who had less than 60 days left in their sentence, and elderly inmates with pre-existing conditions were already released. That brought down the jail population from over 5,600 to around 4,300.

"I think when you look at San Diego County, we've done a responsible job of lowering our inmate population," San Diego Sheriff Bill Gore said at the County Press Briefing on Wednesday. "I am concerned with a one-size-fits-all coming out of the state."

On Wednesday, about 300 additional inmates were released under the new state mandate. But Stephan said she would fight to keep the other 135 in custody. One, for example, is an elder abuse case.

"You release someone who has already harmed an elder, then what is going to happen the next time?" Stephan asked. "They might've gotten lucky, and this time, it was only bruises and no broken bones, which wouldn't qualify as a violent felony. But it is a very serious conduct."

On April 20, the DA's office will bring these 135 cases to a judge and ask for higher bail, no bail, or certain restrictions.

"We use objective criteria that balance the health and well-being of the inmate and the health and well-being of the County," Stephan said.

All 135 inmates facing the DA's review will have their defense attorneys argue their case for early release.