San Diego-area criminals going free under California's zero-bail policy

Posted at 4:41 PM, May 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-13 19:45:48-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — California's zero-bail policy is drawing criticism from San Diego County law enforcement, who say it's forcing them to cite and release criminals who should be behind bars.

The San Diego Sheriff's Department tells 10News they've found suspects in possession of significant amounts of drugs and had to let them go. In one incident, a person had 145 pounds of fentanyl. In three other instances, the suspects had at least 100 pounds of methamphetamine and were also cited and released.

"These are high-level drug traffickers and they're being given a citation and told to come to court at a later date," explained Undersheriff Mike Barnett.

In another case, deputies stopped a man and a woman driving a stolen trailer, filled with stolen property but the couple was never booked into jail.

"They were stopped three more times in neighboring cities, each time they were in possession of additional stolen property," Barnett said.

Zero-bail applies to most misdemeanors and lower-level felonies and was mandated by the state to reduce jail populations and limit the spread of coronavirus.

Since the change, San Diego's jail population has gone from around 5,800 a day to about 3,800.

The Sheriff's Department says when COVID-19 became a concern, they began reducing the population with their own strategy.

"We were releasing mostly sentenced inmates that had served most of their sentence but maybe not all of it, so we were getting them out the door," Barnett said.

But once the state mandate took effect they had to release hundreds more and now say bookings are down by about 100 people a day.

"People with stolen cars, people selling large quantities of drugs, gang members armed with guns," said Barnett.

The Sheriff's Department says it would like to see the state allow counties to decide what's best for them.

"Perhaps zero-bail is a good idea in other counties, I won't speak for any other counties, but in San Diego we had the situation under control before the statewide mandate," said Barnett.

SDSO tells 10News there have been three prisoners who've tested positive for coronavirus since the outbreak began.