SEATTLE -- Jails and prisons are busy reducing their populations, releasing suspected criminals to keep coronavirus from sickening inmates and corrections officers.
The King County prosecutor worries some repeat offenders are being released back onto the streets when he believes they should stay in jail.
A King County judge recently allowed a pair of prolific burglars, one of whom admitted to committing nearly 150 burglaries, according to court records, to get out of jail as long as they promised to return to court. Another suspect was also let go even though he allegedly stole computers from a company that could contain state secrets.
“If those things are happening to me, it could be happening to anybody,” said Sherry Ruden.
Ruden says she recovered her stolen Mini Cooper but it was dented and damaged after police arrested the two accused of trashing it and stealing it from her parking garage.
“I had a car in perfect condition,” she said.
But it’s what happened in court that has her more frustrated.
Both of the suspects were released despite prosecutors’ request for high bail considering their criminal history and propensity to skip out on future court dates.
“I think particularly now we all feel vulnerable,” said King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg. “We're all anxious, and to think that there are people out there committing crime after crime, it’s a public safety matter.”
Since the coronavirus pandemic spread across western Washington, not only are state prisons releasing inmates to ease the virus spread, local jails are also working to keep populations low to ensure everyone is safe.
“I think judges are trying to reserve critical jail capacity for serious violent crimes but sometimes the crime itself doesn’t reflect the seriousness of individuals who are committing these crimes,” said Satterberg.
The man accused of selling laptops he stole from a company called Spaceflight was also allowed to be released from jail by a county judge on his own recognizance, even though charging documents allege he was a foreign national and the swiped computers may hold information sensitive to national security.
“For people like this who are prolific offenders, we are going to find a place in jail for them because that’s the only way to stop this,” Satterberg said.
“Even in just the limited amount of facts that you’ve shared with me right now, you’ve shared facts with me that were not available to me at the time of these hearings,” said King County District Court Judge Joe Campagna during a telephone interview with Q13 News.
Campagna allowed all three suspects to promise to return for their next court dates when he adjudicated their first appearance in court. He insists it was and is his duty to protect the suspects’ rights to due process, and made the best decision he could at the time. He added that he wasn’t aware at the time of the suspect’s prolific burglary histories or the concern of the stolen computers.
Campagna said he followed the law, which often favors a non-violent suspect’s release after their first hearing, adding coronavirus didn’t make a difference in his decision.
“Investigations often take a little time, but I can’t make assumptions on what might be found later,” he said.
Arrest warrants have been issued for all three suspects. Ruden hopes they are caught before someone gets hurt.
“When the pandemic is over, it seems like our system doesn’t usually punish things like that,” she said.
Judge Campagna told Q13 News both of the alleged burglars are now back in custody.