Houston Police Chief Sounds Alarm over Coronavirus-Related Inmate Releases

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo - AP File Photo
AP File Photo

HOUSTON, Texas — The police chief of the largest city in Texas expressed concerns over the release of massive numbers of inmates for Coronavirus fears. Officials in Harris County called for the release of certain non-violent offenders to help prevent the spread.

Breitbart Texas spoke with Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo on Wednesday morning in advance of a possible release order by Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo (D). In Texas, a county judge is the chief executive officer of a county government. By Wednesday afternoon, Judge Hidalgo published her order.

Chief Acevedo expressed many concerns as a law enforcement officer with decades of experience. One was that Hidalgo did not consult him.

“I have not spoken with her about the order,” Acevedo told Breitbart Texas in a Wednesday interview. “I spoke with the sheriff and he expressed similar concerns to mine.”

Acevedo said he was concerned that people with records of violent crimes or new charges of violence could be released. He also said any release program needed to be measured.

He said he could support the “compassionate release” of some “if it includes a case-by-case evaluation and doesn’t include people with violent arrests or a history of violent crimes.”

In particular, Acevedo expressed worry about people with records of burglary of businesses, homes, and vehicles.

“Right now, burglaries have spiked 20 percent,” the chief said. “Some people are seeing the shutdown of businesses as a target-rich opportunity. Habitual burglars should not be released.”

The Houston police chief also said the plan needs to make certain infected inmates are not released into the general public.

“You can be humanistic about this,” he explained, “but public health of the greater community must come first.”

Chief Acevedo filed a declaration in a lawsuit filed in Harris County that calls for the release of up to 4,000 felons from the local jail.

In the declaration, the chief wrote:

Based on my training, experience, and understanding of the current circumstances on the ground, I believe that such a mass release of felons would not only fail to serve the public interests, but furthermore make our streets less safe. This would put additional strain on already limited law enforcement resources and divert them from aiding with the pandemic control efforts. This strain will not only be felt in Houston, but also throughout the entire State of Texas and nation because Plaintiffs’ request does not include safeguards for ensuring these suspects and felons remain in Houston after their release.

We are in an unprecedented time for our country, state and Harris County. The men and women that serve on the police department here have risked their lives to protect and serve during these trying times.  The police department is working on limited resources.  As of this draft, 11 Houston Police Department officers have tested positive for COVID-19 related to their duties, with close to 50 more awaiting test results.  If Harris County releases high-level offenders from jail, our resources will be stretched even further.  We should all be concerned about the wholesale release of individuals charged with violent crimes.  There is a high likelihood that some actors that are released will subsequently commit more crimes.  We must prevent this from occurring.  We will not be able to keep up with demand and the high likelihood of repeat offenses.

Following the interview Wednesday, Judge Hidalgo issued a 15-page order calling for the release of certain prisoners from Harris County lockup. Hidalgo ordered Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez (D) to “take immediate steps to reduce and control the occupancy of the Harris County Jail system.” She ordered the sheriff to not “enforce orders to hold any detainees in the Harris County Jail system on one or more non-violent charges.”

The judge’s order applies as long as the detainee did not have a previous conviction or current charges for a crime involving violence or the threat of violence; three or more drunk-driving convictions; a conviction for burglary of a habitation; or temporary restraining orders.

Chief Acevedo also expressed concerns about two misdemeanor court judges and one felony court judge who appear to be attempting to manipulate the bail bond system. The alleged actions circumvent Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s order to prevent the release of thousands of inmates from the Harris County jail. “This must not be allowed to happen,” the chief stated.

The chief said there are some who believe that “no one should be in jail pre-trial.”

“Using the pandemic to advance that agenda is wrong and counter-productive to the legitimate reform of the criminal justice system and bonds,” he expressed. He cited the release last week of David Cruz. Inmate Cruz is charged with murder and was released on a personal recognizance bond because of concerns about COVID-19.

In anticipation of a mass-release of inmates, including violent felons, Governor Abbott issued an executive order that prohibits the release of “any person convicted of a crime that involves violence or the threat of violence, or a person currently arrested for such a crime.”

Chief Acevedo said in his declaration that those under consideration for release included inmates charged with:

  • Murder — 16
  • Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon — 96
  • Aggravated Assault of a Family Member — 44
  • Aggravated Assault of a Peace Officer — 16
  • Aggravated Sexual Assault of a Child Under 14 — 24
  • Assault of a Family Member with Previous Conviction — 27
  • 3rd DWI — 37
  • Failure to Comply Sex Offender — 21
  • Felon in Possession of a Firearm — 16
  • Indecent Sexual Contact with a Child — 17

Acevedo stresses that no person should be released without “assessment by a judge to ensure that we weigh the risks posed to public safety and security on an individual case-by-case basis.”

“The last thing our community needs are decisions that further exacerbate public anxiety and risk to the people we serve,” Chief Acevedo concluded. “Releases of persons charged with high-level offenses place the community in grave danger and must be prevented. Violent and habitual offenders (especially burglars) need to remain in quarantine in jail.”

Bob Price serves as associate editor and senior news contributor for the Breitbart Texas-Border team. He is an original member of the Breitbart Texas team. Price is a regular panelist on Fox 26 Houston’s What’s Your Point? Sunday-morning talk show. Follow him on Twitter @BobPriceBBTX and Facebook.

Art Acevedo Declaration by Bob Price on Scribd

Harris County Jail Order of Release by Bob Price on Scribd

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