Jefferson County DA cites 2 recent arrests as example of bail reform failure

Updated: Sep. 1, 2020 at 5:49 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - Jefferson County’s district attorney says it’s the perfect example of how New York’s bail reform fails. She says it’s linked to an incident that happened in Watertown about two weeks ago

On August 19, police flooded the Top of the Square Plaza in Watertown after a handgun accidentally went off. That handgun belonged to a suspect that was being chased by police.

No one was hurt, but the DA says the suspect had been arrested in the county before and should not have been on the streets in the first place.

The person put in the police cruiser that day is 43 year old James Christian.

Jefferson County DA Kristyna Mills says he has a long arrest record.

After the gun incident, Christian was charged with drug sale and possession.

Mills points out, he had other charges in the county.

“He was arrested in this county on a burglary, a burglary third, which is an offense for which bail cannot be set, so he was released,” said Mills.

That release was allowed by New York’s bail reform. But Mills says the incident with the gun going off wouldn’t have happened if bail reform laws didn’t exist.

“He’s not from the area and he had a long out-of-state record. So, he would’ve been somebody that would’ve been held in jail pending prosecution and he was not because it’s a non-bailable offense and he went out and committed these other offenses,” she said.

And it’s not the only example Mills has.

“An individual, who was caught in a house burglary and was released on his own recognizance after being arrested and processed, and later that same day, burglarized the same house,” she said.

That’s the case of Thomas Sweredoski. City police say he was arrested for second-degree burglary at a home on Clinton Street a little after 1 p.m. on August 8.

After being released, he was arrested on the same charge at the same home just 7 hours later.

According to police, Sweredoski was held on cash bail following that second arrest.

Examples like these are outliers according to New Yorkers United for Justice Executive Director Alexander Horwitz.

NYUJ is a coalition headquartered in New York City fighting for criminal justice reforms.

Horwitz says data from the NYPD regarding gun incidents shows less than 1 percent of people released due to bail reform in the city will go out and commit more crime.

And he says this data is proving bail reform has been a success so far.

“There will always be outliers. There will always be incidents that scare us, and again, that make us crave these easy explanations for what is happening to our city, to our state, to our country. Very rarely do complex problems like these have those easy solutions,” said Horwitz.

Mills says giving judges more discretion about when bail should be set is a way to help fix bail reform laws.

Meanwhile, Horwitz says judge discretion about bail could endanger equal justice.

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