Here we reproduce news articles in the print and electronic media since 2008 about each of our 58 county grand juries. The vast majority of the articles are about grand jury reports. We hope that this feature is a resource to grand juries, grand jury advisors, CGJA chapters, the media, and the public. Sponsored by the California Grand Jurors' Association, http://www.cgja.org
Thursday, August 14, 2014
(Humboldt County) Will Not Comply
sheriff and the grand jury disagree on jail releases
North Coast Journal
Sheriff Mike Downey says the jail will
continue to release inmates during late night and early morning hours, despite
a recent recommendation from the Humboldt County grand jury to halt the
The grand jury also suggests that the county
jail may be violating state law by not providing inmates arrested at distant
locations a way to get home, and recommends that cash confiscated during
bookings be returned upon an inmate's release. Downey says the county is
looking into how it can help released prisoners get home, and that a policy
change made earlier this year gives confiscated cash back to short-term
The practice of releasing people from the
jail in the late night and early morning hours came under scrutiny after the
killing of St. Bernard Pastor Father Eric Freed on Jan. 1, allegedly at the
hands of a man who had been arrested in Redway on the afternoon of Dec. 31 and
released in downtown Eureka — blocks from where Freed slept — after midnight.
In May, following a town hall meeting that grew heated at times, the sheriff's
office announced a change in policy: It would offer inmates the option to stay
in jail until morning. (Three to five inmates per week asked for such a thing,
according to a sheriff's office press release at the time.) Jail Capt. Ed
Wilkinson said 717 people have been released between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. since
the policy was modified on March 17. "I believe the changes made to our
policy has increased the level of safety for the individual being released and
the safety to the community, while ensuring the individual retains his or her
rights," Wilkinson said.
The grand jury report cites three deaths that
have occurred in the last year "involving early morning releases from the
jail," and says "the people of Humboldt County would be better served
if Humboldt County Correctional Facility stopped releasing inmates between 9
p.m. and 6 a.m."
But Downey said the jail will not follow the
grand jury's recommendation. "It's one I'm not going to be able to comply
with," he said. Previously, Downey, citing constitutional concerns (which
he reiterated to the grand jury during its investigation), explained that the
jail holds people arrested on suspicion of being under the influence of drugs
or alcohol until they are determined to be sober and not a danger to themselves
or others. If sobriety comes at 3 a.m., that's when the jail lets them out. The
jail also sometimes releases inmates during late-night/early morning hours when
they've completed a sentence.
On Aug. 11, Downey again defended the
practice, saying that intoxicated people aren't typically going to be charged
with a crime — making it questionable to hold them for longer than the period
in which they are unable to care for themselves. He said the policy is modeled
after a 10-year-old senate bill that was never ratified, which "clearly
states that the person would have to voluntarily stay in jail." With 3,500
people booked for disorderly conduct a year, "you can see how problematic
that would be to house everyone," Downey continued.
But in its report released Aug. 6, the grand
jury determined that Downey's constitutional concerns weren't likely to have
actual legal impacts (the Journal noted in the January story "Dead
of Night" that at least six other jails around the state hold people until
daylight hours, without legal challenge). The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that
jails can legally hold people for 48 hours before they must be brought before a
judge. Releasing an inmate prior to that period, if no further proceedings are
desired, is discretionary, the grand jury determined.
"In a situation where the safety of the
community is at issue, the jury believes that it is extremely unlikely that any
court will hold that the sheriff is violating the law by deciding that the
exercise of such discretion should not occur between the hours of 9 p.m. and 6
a.m. when the exercise of that discretion can put the community at risk,"
the report states. "The sheriff should order that no decision as to
whether or not 'no further proceedings are desirable' will be made between the
hours of 9 p.m. and 6 a.m."
In addition, the grand jury found that the Humboldt
County jail may be violating California law by not providing transport for
people arrested in the far reaches of the county.
"California Penal Code Section 686.5
mandates that for an indigent person who is arrested 'more than 25 airline
miles' from where he or she is released from custody and who will not be
charged, 'the arresting agency shall, at his request, return or provide for
return of such person to the place of his arrest.' Humboldt County Correctional
Facility staff told us they do not routinely follow this policy," the
Downey appears to be taking the grand jury's
recommendation that the sheriff's office work with the Humboldt Transit
Authority to provide bus tickets for indigent inmates, saying that he's looking
at options with county counsel and the transit authority. "We're looking
at trying to put together some type of voucher program," he said.
It's unclear at this point how that will
work, as the grand jury's recommendation in part relied on the end of
"Generally speaking the early morning
buses are not crowded and making bus tickets available would be virtually cost
free as the buses will run in any case," the report says. Downey
acknowledged that bus vouchers won't do much for a person released when buses
aren't running. "It'd be on the timeline of the bus system," he said.
"They have to wait for the buses to start."
If the place of arrest was not accessible by
public transit, the report goes on, the jail must make other arrangements.
Downey said the county is considering taxi service or other options.
Finally, the grand jury recommended that
inmates be given back any cash they were booked with upon release. Currently,
the jail returns cash to people booked on short disorderly conduct holds, but
returns a credit card to inmates housed for longer periods of time, Downey
The entire grand jury report, which is
investigated and written by citizens serving a one year term, can be found on
the county's website at http://co.humboldt.ca.us/grandjury/default.asp. In
addition to the jail release report, the jury touches on county code
enforcement, road maintenance, disaster preparedness and other matters.