Texas Judge Stops Harris County from Releasing Inmates over Coronavirus Fears

Inmates are seen in an acute unit of the mental heath unit at the Harris County jail, Friday, Aug. 15, 2014, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
AP File Photo: Eric Gay

HOUSTON, Texas — A Texas state district court judge ordered Harris County to stop the release of inmates as ordered by County Judge Lina Hidalgo (D). Hidalgo ordered the release of hundreds of non-violent offenders from the jail earlier this week.

District Court Judge Herb Ritchie (D) issued an order on Friday stopping plans by Harris County to release non-violent inmates charged with felonies. County Judge Hidalgo (the county’s chief executive officer) issued an order earlier this week to release inmates who do not have a violent criminal history or are not currently charged with a violent crime, Breitbart Texas reported. Judge Ritchie serves as the administrative for the state district courts that hear felony criminal cases in Harris County.

The order issued by Judge Ritchie states that most of the inmates in the Harris County jail are defendants charged with felony offenses. These cases are assigned to the 22 felony district courts that serve Harris County. The judge says these district court judges have exclusive jurisdiction over issues relating to these cases.

“Any Order issued by the  County Judge of Harris County Texas to any Harris County agency, pertaining to bonds and/or release of felony prisoners or probationers assigned to a proper Court of felony jurisdiction is ultra vires, VOID ON ITS FACE and of NO FORCE AND EFFECT,” Judge Ritchie wrote in his court order.

He continued saying that only the 22 felony district court judges can make rulings regarding setting, raising, and/or denial of bonds. He wrote that this also applies to the incarceration or release of probationers under supervision from these same felony courts.

Judge Ritchie ordered pre-trial services to not prepare or submit to the Sheriff of Harris County “any bonds or other orders of release” at the direction of Judge Hidalgo. He further ordered the Harris County Community Corrections and Supervision Department to “ignore any and all orders” from Judge Hidalgo regarding the incarceration or release of felony probationers.

He concluded by ordering Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez (D) to only release a felony inmate pursuant to a “valid Bond or other Order of Release signed by a State District Judge of Harris County.” He also included orders from the Court of Appeals or the Court of Criminal Appeals or a federal court with lawful jurisdiction as valid orders for the sheriff.

Sheriff Gonzalez responded to Judge Ritchie and sent out a tweet announcing the cessation of inmate releases pursuant to Judge Hidalgo’s orders.

“Per a Court Order just received, halting any further inmate releases related to County Judge Hidalgo’s Order,” Sheriff Gonzalez tweeted. “This is a legal matter and will wait for further information.”

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo told Breitbart the blanket release of certain non-violent inmates could add to the spiking burglary crime rate underway after Judge Hidalgo issued the “Stay-Home, Work-Smart” order in March.

“Right now, burglaries have spiked 20 percent,” Chief Acevedo told Breitbart Texas in a phone interview. “Some people are seeing the shutdown of businesses as a target-rich opportunity. Habitual burglars should not be released.”

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.

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