Washington State Governor Unleashes Wave Two Of The Coronavirus: 1,100 Hardened Offenders Walking Out Of Prison
We always hesitate to get into prison issues, because our mission is to guarantee the right to bail and also ensure accountability as part of that process. But in the case of Washington state, after following prison and jail releases due to the threat of COVID-19, we agreed to discuss the issue of releases after a media request.
Why, you ask? Read on.
After conducting our research, what we discovered is another head scratcher involving yet again the seemingly impossible attempt to use state power to completely regulate the human organism. Another truly pathetic attempt to convince ourselves of wacky ideas, that, when sprinkled with a little groupthink, instantaneously hit social media and become truth.
Here’s the newest wacky idea: we need to release 1,100 convicted felons from Washington State prisons to combat the COVID virus. That isn’t just a theory—that happened on Friday. Read all about it here: Washington State DOC COVID-19 Plan
First, there is no emergency warranting this action, and there was no individual public consideration by a court, carefully weighing the rights of the People and the defendant, including the public safety risk, prior to making this decision.
The statistics on this are pretty basic and on the Department’s website. Turning to the Agency Fact Card, the Department of Corrections typically houses 19,160 offenders as of the end of 2019. The Department reported on Friday, April 18, 2020, that the Department had confirmed a total of 12 positive COVID-19 cases in inmates, 11 of which were at one facility, Monroe. 16 staff cases had been confirmed, 6 of which were at the Monroe facility. This is an emergency? There is no indication, as the Pennsylvania Supreme Court required in their state, that the Washington Department of Corrections is unable to comply with the CDC guidelines for correctional facilities that would warrant such a stunning action. It’s important to remember, managing outbreaks in prisons in nothing new. All prisons and detention facilities have plans and procedures in place to deal with disease control as part of their normal operating procedure.
Moreover, based on what we have already seen in terms of infection rates, we think releasing 1,100 prisoners will cause much more damage than if they stayed in a few more months or years to complete their sentence. In fact, the rate of infection in Washington’s state prisons is much, much lower than that of Washington residents or your average person in the USA. In prison, these offenders have been exposed to the unthinkable overall infection of a 1 in 1,600 chance of catching the virus, and striking Monroe from the statistics, more like a 1 in 18,000 chance of catching it. The risk of catching it in the USA among the population in general right now is 1 in 442. In Washington State, it is 1 in 646. So, the risk to prisoners of getting COVID-19 based on the numbers is an order of magnitude less than the risk to the general public, yet activists will argue that prisoners must be released into the general public to face a higher risk of infection in order to contain the virus.
Second, there is no evidence that these releases will better contain the virus, and likely the opposite is true. In fact, if the virus being rampant in prison was grounds for declaring a prison emergency, should we not test these inmates first – making sure their release will not further infect the public? Of course, there was no emergency and the only requirement for release by the executive order was an address and a State ID. Of course, these released individuals will not quarantine themselves before going back to live with friends or family. They are unemployed—they have no other option short or long term. They certainly didn’t get a stimulus check from Governor Inslee or President Trump.
Third, there was no public due process weight given to public safety. As Judge Rosenthal held in the Texas bail case, considerations of public safety are important in this context, especially when there is evidence that such persons may be a public safety risk. We think prior felons in possession of a firearm, which incidentally is also a federal crime, may put the safety of the public at risk, especially because of the en masse nature of the release and the direct commutation of sentences. Further, the two unmet criminogenic needs that drive reoffending the most are stable housing and employment. Tough to get a job when the economy is shut down, and let’s just say apartment vacancies aren’t exactly happening either. These critical needs drive crime, and this is the absolute worst time to attempt to meet the needs of these offenders. As we have seen in California, it takes mere days for the burglaries and car thefts by those released to turn right back on. And then what?
Fourth, there is no way that even the vast majority of these cases can be counted as “non-violent” offenders. There are some non-violent charges on the list of releases, mostly drug manufacturing and distribution. However, there is no criminal history information as to whether the persons being released on such non-violent charges, as narrowly defined by the code, have previously been convicted of a violent charge. The best examples of this are the 71 felony gun charge cases on the commutation list (meaning the rest of the sentence has been extinguished), which are a mix of first-degree and second-degree illegal possession of a firearm cases, carrying a maximum of 10 and 5 years in prison, respectively.
Need a refresher on these "non-violent" crimes?
Unlawful Possession of a Firearm in the First Degree
A person previously convicted of certain crimes is prohibited from lawful possession of a firearm. These crimes include: felonies, acts of domestic violence, any crime of violence, leading organized crime, child molestation in the second degree, promoting prostitution in the first degree, rape in the third degree, sexual exploitation, and certain other crimes. (RCW 9.41.040)
Unlawful possession of a firearm in the first degree is a class B felony punishable by imprisonment for up to ten years, by a fine of up to $20,000, or a combination of both (RCW 9A.20.021(1)(b)).
Unlawful Possession of a Firearm in the Second Degree
A person commits unlawful possession of a firearm in the second degree if he or she possesses a firearm and was previously convicted of certain crimes, including assault in the fourth degree, stalking, reckless endangerment, or violation of a protection order or no-contact order, or if he or she possessed a firearm “during any period of time that the person is subject to a court order” (RCW 9.41.040).
Unlawful possession of a firearm in the second degree is a class C felony punishable by imprisonment for up to five years, by a fine of up to $10,000, or a combination of both (RCW 9A.20.021(1)(c)).
So, let’s be clear about these releases – we are talking about prior serious felony offenders, i.e., those who committed serious domestic violence, rape, robbery, etc. who were prohibited from having firearms, who then were busted by the police for having firearms. That could be domestic violence returning to the house with a gun while a protection order is in place. These are not non-violent offenders. In addition, burglary 2 is on most of the three lists, which means breaking into someone’s house to commit a felony against that person or their property is not a worry.
Let’s start with what we think should be Governor Inslee’s poster-boy: commuting the sentence of Marty Lee Gonzalez.
If frequent flier miles were awarded for every court appearance, Mr. Gonzalez could take the entire prison staff on a trip around the world. He has 23 criminal matters in Grant County, Washington dating between 1998-2016. He has one criminal matter in Douglas County, Washington for a total of 24 cases between 1998-2016. He picked up eight criminal cases between January 26, 2015 and December 30, 2016. Clearly, he was on a bit of a crime spree, getting arrested every other month during a two-year period.
What landed Marty in the joint? The Wenatchee World had the scoop in their July 4, 2017 article…
Marty Lee Gonzalez, 35, of Quincy remained jailed Tuesday on $500,00 bond following his arrest Friday. A woman told Wenatchee police Gonzalez had displayed a handgun and ordered her to drive him from Quincy to Wenatchee, where he sexually assaulted her in a motel room. Police are seeking first-degree charges of rape, kidnapping and unlawful possession of a firearm, plus second-degree burglary, resisting arrest, violating a no-contact order and other counts.
Police arrived at the Value Inn, 1640 N. Wenatchee Ave., about 9:10 a.m. Friday after a call from the management. Both Gonzalez and the alleged victim were near a room on the second floor. When police approached, Gonzalez allegedly jumped from the balcony and ran north, jumping a fence onto Wenatchee Public Works Department property. A patrol officer who caught up to him on nearby Stella Avenue said Gonzalez at first refused to surrender, but eventually put his hands on his head and was wrestled to the ground and handcuffed.
Police said they found a silver .22 caliber Derringer pistol in Gonzalez' motel room. Gonzalez and the victim have a long history of domestic violence, police said, and she held a no-contact order against Gonzalez at the time of the alleged abduction. He has previously been convicted of offenses including kidnapping, unlawful firearms possession, assault and multiple counts of domestic violence, court records show.
Fast forward to 2020 and Marty could get COVID-19, so it’s time for him to go home while the criminal justice system is shut down and the public are sitting ducks for violent acts, including his long-time victim of domestic violence. This is public safety, brought to you by Governor Inslee.
Not to be outdone, enter Terrance Hedrick-Guy.
Terrance Hedrick-Guy, another at-risk prisoner, got his sentence commuted by the Governor as well. Hedrick-Guy landed himself in the joint for possession of a firearm by a prior domestic offender, which is also a violation of the Brady Firearms Act, which could have been charged as a federal crime. He also was a frequent flier, not the extent of Mr. Gonzalez, but let’s just say he could have taken us all to Vegas. He picked up 15 criminal cases between July 2, 2015 and January 6, 2018. Henrick-Guy was averaging roughly an arrest per month for a 17 months period at one time. Court records show there was a protection order from a victim of family violence.
Did the Governor’s office contact the victims of these crimes prior to commuting the sentences? We don’t think so, but we asked him, and we’ll report back. At the end of the day, if a guy who disregards firearms laws who has a rap sheet a mile long is safe to release early, then the State ought to move on to the 18,000 offenders who are left.
Instead, this is no emergency.
This is an agenda-driven move to take advantage of a crisis, for which the Governor should be ashamed. We would argue, this will do only two things: endanger COVID containment efforts and increase crime due the economic shut down which will severely impair the ability of these persons to meet their immediate criminogenic needs and stay out of crime. Yes, some may have only been held until the end of June—but the outlook would have been a lot rosier and the police better able to protect the public by Independence Day.
Instead, we call on all the public, legislators, local officials, and administrative officials to hold the Governor accountable. We think every single one of these releases should be tracked to find out what happened, both in terms of public safety and COVID-19 containment. The Governor declared a false prison emergency to advance his idealistic political agenda.
So much for swearing to uphold the constitution. Indeed, crime does pay in Washington State.