NELSONVILLE, Ohio (WCMH) — A court’s direction to release people with active $100 bond warrants onto the streets of Nelsonville has empowered criminal behavior, says Police Chief Scott Fitch.
“There are hundreds of people, literally, who are walking around the streets of Nelsonville today that have $100 bond warrants,” said Chief Fitch.
“They know they have an active warrant for their arrest, but they will start laughing and tell us before we even run them through the computer, ‘Yeah, we know we have several $100 warrants, but we know you can’t arrest us because Judge Grace [of Athens County Municipal Court] doesn’t want you to’,” Chief Fitch said.
Hundred-dollar warrants are issued by Athens County Municipal Court when people don’t turn up for court hearings on non-violent offenses, a court spokesperson said in an email statement. “In situations where the Court finds that it is important that individuals be taken into custody, the Court sets bond higher than the $100 amount.”
But the situation is causing concern for Nelsonville police. For instance, in a social media post on March 2: “Officers determined that Willard Bridgeman had an active warrant but due to the Athens County Municipal Court Judge’s Policy of ‘No arrest for any Warrant with $100 Bond’ the individual was released…”
A spokesperson for the Athens County Municipal Court said the policy was introduced to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.
“This policy was instituted in response to the COVID pandemic and was communicated to all law enforcement agencies in the county, not just Nelsonville Police Department. Law enforcement agencies were asked to inform individuals with these $100 warrants of the warrant with instructions to contact the Court and make arrangements to appear,” a court spokesperson said in an email statement.
“The Regional Jail has instituted safety measures to reduce risk of spreading COVID including a significant decrease in capacity. While it is important to appear for court and resolve charges, that societal need must be balanced with the efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID. The warrants allow these cases to be dealt with later, and the release instruction keeps people safe with regards to the pandemic,” the court spokesperson said.
As well as being demoralizing for officers who have to catch-and-release suspected criminals, Chief Fitch worries about the city’s liability.
“When does Nelsonville City incur some liability for failing to arrest people, failing to make the streets safer, and failing to take people off the streets by not incarcerating them, and continuing to release them?” Chief Fitch said.
“It’s inevitable that somebody that we would have arrested and incarcerated…if they go out later on and commit a crime of violence, where does the liability fall on the Nelsonville Police Department? It doesn’t send a good message to the citizens of Nelsonville, and it doesn’t send a good message to the officers of Nelsonville,” he concluded.