By BOB PALMER
Jimplecute News Editor
JEFFERSON – The Pine Harbor resident did not appear concerned when told his neighbor Daniel E. Pierce, III, the man convicted of chaining starving dogs to a school bus last year, had an arrest warrant with his name on it.
“There’s lots of people here with arrest warrants,” the man, who declined to give his name, said.
Marion County Sheriff David McKnight, responding to a Texas Public Information Act request from the Jimplecute admitted officers hold 570 warrants as of June 29 that have yet to be served.
Deputies told Pine Harbor residents the reason Pierce had not been arrested was that there was not room in the Marion County Jail.
In response to a Jimplecute TPIA request, McKnight stated that on June 30, the jail held 35 prisoners and that the jail’s capacity is 38 pending classifications with variances.
Other counties, not just Marion, have a problem with warrants waiting to be served.
Cass County, population 30,000, has 841 warrants which represents 2.8% of the population.
Franklin County Sheriff Ricky Jones estimates his county with a population of just 11,000 has more than 2,000 warrants pending. That represents 18.2% of the population. Interstate 30 runs through Franklin County.
Marion County has a population of 10,000. 570 unserved warrants represents 5.7% of the population.
One criminal justice expert, Jefferson native Billy Humphrey, an adjunct professor at Sam Houston State, said the number of warrants may not actually be as high as it first appears, noting not all of the warrants are for local residents.
“Those are not bad statistics as far as the sheriff’s office performance is concerned,” Humphrey said. “You have to dissect that 570.”
Humphrey pointed out that many of the warrants are probably for Class C misdemeanors.
“For an accurate picture, take out those Class Cs, and see what you have for felonies,” Humphrey said.
Humphrey estimated 100 to 200 felonies, Class A and Class B misdemeanors.
“I would speculate that 50 to 70 percent are Class C – traffic violations,” Humphrey, who noted many warrants could be for tourists who have left the state.
“I think Marion County is in pretty good shape,” Humphrey concluded.
One retired police officer, however, sees failure to arrest a person who has a warrant against them as “dereliction of duty.”
“The arrest warrant is an order from a judge,” Michelle Ready, who retired from Little Rock Police Department after almost 22 years, said.
”It’s not the sheriff’s decision to make. The person should be arrested and brought before a judge. If the judge decides to cut them loose, that’s on the judge.”
Ready does not accept jail overcrowding as an acceptable reason to not make an arrest.
“The jail is crowded just does not fly,” Ready said. She asserted failure to make an arrest is unacceptable, “especially on citizens who might be victimized again.”
Ready suggested steps like asking non-violent offenders to come in and arrange a settlement were possible.
Ken Tomlinson, co-owner of Bulldog Bail Bonds, said responsibility for the warrants should be spread around.
“I don’t think it’s all the sheriff’s fault,” Tomlinson said. “It’s been a problem for years. The sheriff can’t fix the jail or build a new jail.”
Tomlinson noted that part of the warrants could be for persons who have been charged and bonded out, but the bonding company for a variety of reasons has withdrawn the surety.
“I don’t normally file on someone unless he’s arrested somewhere else,” Tomlinson said of when he withdraws a bond.
Tomlinson was clear on whose responsibility it is to either build a new jail or pay to house prisoners in other counties if the Marion County Jail is full. In 2018, Marion County paid for 150 inmate days in other counties, and in 2019, the county paid for 348 days.
“I think it’s the commissioners and the judge’s fault,” Tomlinson said.
The Jimplecute sought comment by email on this issue from Sheriff McKnight and County Judge Leward LaFleur but had not received a response at publication time.
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