Crime & Courts

CMPD chief: Court officials keep releasing potentially violent suspects from jail

In comments to reporters Wednesday, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney criticized the fact that some people charged with serious violent offenses have been released from the Mecklenburg County Jail.

He said electronic monitoring — GPS-equipped ankle bracelets frequently assigned to people who’ve been let out of jail on bond — is a purely reactive way to supervise people charged with crimes, and some people shouldn’t be let out of jail on bond in the first place.

“All we have is a monitor to see if they’ve committed another crime,” he said. “And that’s not our mission. Our mission is to prevent (crimes).”

People charged with murder and armed robbery should never be let out of jail, he said. If it’s the second time someone has been charged with a lesser crime, like common-law robbery, he said those people likely should be kept in jail, too.

The decision to release someone from jail belongs to magistrates and judges at the Mecklenburg County Courthouse — not police or the sheriff’s office.

Putney said Wednesday morning that he had reached out to Chief Mecklenburg District Judge Regan Miller to talk about this and hadn’t heard back.

Pam Escobar, a spokeswoman for the trial court administrator’s office, said Miller and Chief Magistrate Khalif Rhodes have no comment. Around 3:15 p.m. Wednesday, Escobar confirmed that Putney and Miller have scheduled a meeting for next week.

Many more people have been killed in Charlotte in 2019 compared to this time in 2018, and violent crime is up, too. In the first quarter of 2019, violent crime was up 11 percent compared to the same period in 2019.

In 2018, about 1,400 people were electronically monitored in Mecklenburg County, according to CMPD. Two of those people were charged with committing a murder while they were on electronic monitoring, and 25 were charged with robbery.

As of Wednesday, 20 people charged with murder or manslaughter were out of jail on electronic monitoring, police said.

The most recent major change to pretrial release in Mecklenburg County came March 1, when a new bail policy went into effect and effectively ended the practice of associating particular bail amounts with particular offenses.

Putney did not discuss the new policy, which has judges decide whether to release people based on the likelihood they’ll show up for court and the possibility they’ll reoffend before trial, in his comments Wednesday.

That policy did not include any particular change to electronic monitoring, Mecklenburg County chief public defender Kevin Tully said.

“The question is, do you have the right people in jail ... and that can only be answered on a case by case basis based upon an individualized assessment of risk,” Tully said. “That can include the charge, but it shouldn’t be the beginning and end of the story.”

Tully said he’s puzzled by the chief’s criticism of the electronic monitoring program, which is managed by CMPD.

“It’s his program,” Tully said, adding that in the past, he’s seen police defend electronic monitoring by saying no program is perfect. “I’m like OK, what changed?”

A plan to use electronic monitoring is not typically a deciding factor when a judge is determining whether to let someone out of jail, Tully said. He said the release decision is made based on the facts of the case, and then the judge might decide to add monitoring as “additional assurance.”

Putney said he doesn’t believe all parts of the justice system are being held accountable in the same way.

“Reform has just been about the police, and I think we’ve been open to it,” he said. “In fact I’m sure of it ... I just pose the question, who’s holding accountable every other step in the justice process?”

Jane Wester is a Charlotte native and has been covering criminal justice and public safety for The Charlotte Observer since May 2017.