HARRIS COUNTY, Texas — COVID-19 is impacting the Houston-area community as well as the criminal justice system.
At the Harris County Jail, there hasn't been a confirmed case of COVID-19, but that hasn’t stopped an attorney from arguing his client is at risk for exposure.
“I can’t imagine how victim’s families would feel," said Andy Kahan, Director of Victims Services at Crime Stoppers. “I think it’s, obviously, from our perspective, COVID-19 related and where it stops? I don’t know.”
Kahan said he’s seeing violent offenders being released on public recognizance bonds. Meaning, they don’t have to pay a dime as long as they show up for court.
“Some of the cases I’m picking up are extremely disturbing," Kahan said.
One case got Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo tweeting.
David Cruz, a man charged with murder, was released on a PR bond after his attorney said in court documents, “The current COVID-19 virus is certainly going to strike the Harris County jail population and spread like wildfire among inmates.”
“I’m scratching my head going through all these cases, going, 'This makes zero sense,'" Kahan said.
Kahan’s concern is how many more cases are coming.
“It’s just a matter of time before one of these offenders, (who is) released on PR bond continues their criminal career," he said.
David Cunningham is the defense attorney who represented Cruz. He said the coronavirus was not the reason his client was released on bond.
"Mr. Cruz has been in jail a long time," Cunningham said. "The state was not ready and has not been ready."
Judge Desean Jones, who presides over the 180th Criminal Court, also released a statement.
"In every case, Judges must be neutral and unbiased otherwise the presumption of innocence is no more than a legal fiction. Judges cannot comment on the particulars of active cases. Plus, we are bound by the law. Hearsay is not evidence. Bail is governed by Article 1, Section 11 of the Texas Bill of Rights. It reads, in part, “if the accused is not accorded a trial upon the accusation ... within sixty (60) days from the time of his incarceration upon the accusation, the order denying bail shall be automatically set aside, unless a continuance is obtained upon the motion or request of the accused.”
KHOU reached out to the Harris County District Attorney's Office for a response. A spokesman said prosecutors were ready and they opposed the release of Cruz.