Booked, Released, Slain: How Jail Overcrowding Played Into Sunday's Homicide
As reported earlier this week, Eureka Police found an injured man, recently identified as Joshua Lloyd Burrell, in the parking lot of the Royal Inn Motel on 5th Street in Eureka early Sunday morning. The man subsequently was pronounced dead after being rushed to the hospital with a stab wound. Eureka police began searching for a suspect. On Wednesday, William Flores was arrested for Burrell’s murder.
Following a tip by “Kelly” in the comment section of the above link, LoCO investigated further and after following Burrell through the jail system learned a great deal about why some arrestees are incarcerated and some are let go almost immediately. We thought we’d pass that information on to our readers to help them understand the ins and outs of the system
LoCO’s search revealed that the victim in this weekend’s homicide, Joshua Burrell, was arrested by the Rio Dell Police Dept. on Saturday the 14th. Sgt. Joshua Weiner of Rio Dell was the arresting officer. He said that Burrell was arrested on Wildwood Avenue across from the Fire Department in the 800 block for possession of methamphetamine, being under influence of a controlled substance, and probation violation at 7:45 P.M.
Burrell was a frequent inmate this last year at the Humboldt Co. Jail. ”Booked” shows that he was arrested and released from the Humboldt Co. Jail on the following dates.
Lt. Dean Flint of the Humboldt Co. Sheriff’s Office says that on 9/14 Burrell was booked into the Humboldt Co. Jail at 8:16 P.M. (Note: Booked says 7:45 P.M. but that is the time that Burrell was arrested in Rio Dell.)
According to release logs, Burrell was let out at 12:38 A.M., Sunday, the 15th, on his Own Recognizance even with a felony arrest because the Humboldt CO. Correctional Facility was approaching full.
In the course of our investigation, LoCO learned that the Humboldt Co. Jail has a capacity of approximately 411 beds. This varies because if an inmate needs to be in a solitary situation then officials may have to place him or her in a room designed for more than one which will take multiple beds out of service.
Flint explained, “Years and years ago, when I first started with the Sheriff’s Office and we became grossly overcrowd, a booking matrix was designed.” The courts dictated that the jail wasn’t allowed to hold more than a certain amount of people. “If you were at the max and somebody came in, then you would have to let someone go.”
Instead, Flint said, of jail staff picking someone to release which could result in some inmates who were liked being released earlier than others who were disliked, the decision was made to stop booking certain types of arrestees when the jail began approaching a certain number of inmates.
A matrix was designed that detailed which people arrested for which types of crime would not be added into the jail population as certain levels of inmates were reached inside of the jail. Flint explained that if the jail reaches this certain target number, then staff will not admit those arrested for misdemeanor crimes. They’ll just be booked and released. “Then,” he said, “when we reach another higher target, we wouldn’t admit the next level” such as non-violent felony arrests.
Recently, with prison realignment sending more people into the county systems and out of state prisons, the county jails have been getting more crowded. Flint said that this caused his department to take “the old matrix out and dust it off.” It is, he said, “the best way to manage the corrections and keep the safety of the public in mind.”
Lt. Flint says that on Sunday morning there were 375 people counted as being in the jail population. (This report, shows a slightly different amount but the head count may have been taken at a different time.)
Flint also noted that someone arrested on a Thursday is more likely to be incarcerated because on Wednesday afternoon the Court does a lot of releasing on OR [Own Recognizance] on a regular basis. The courts also releases on probation.” This frees up more space in the jail. When there are no court releases, such as on the weekend, then the jail staff, he says, frequently have to let arrestees go because otherwise there would be overcrowding.
Flint says, “Sunday, you have a better chance of getting released [without being admitted to the jail] because the courts aren’t in session on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.” At the end of the weekend, the jail is more likely to be at or near the target number for not admitting more inmates and many arrestees for lower level, non violent crimes are let go without spending time in jail.
For Burrell, this held true. Even though he was arrested for a felony, he was not held in the Humboldt County jail.
Normally, Burrell would have been released immediately because the target number of people already housed in the jail was reached on Saturday but because he was believed to be under the influence, says Flint, “he sat in the processing room for some time.”
When arrestees are “under the influence,” Flint explained, “we do not turn them back into the street until we can release them with a certain degree of comfort that they aren’t going to walk under a logging truck. It would be ridiculous to release them before [they are sober.]”
Flint says that the county’s correctional officers will often offer up cell phones so the arrestee can call friends or family to come pick up him or her. They sometimes will do even more. “I can tell you with 100% assurance that our officers often give away socks or coffee because they have heart,” he added. He says at that time of night the arrestee is often advised to wait til someone arrives to pick them up and then escorted to the door when the jail receives a call that a ride is ready. However, he says, he doesn’t know for sure what happened to Burrell.
At 1:11 A.M., thirty-three minutes after Burrell is noted as released, the Eureka Police Dept. received a report of a “man-down.” Officers proceeded to the area described which is about two blocks from the jail. Burrell was transported to the hospital and pronounced dead a short time later.
According to Detective Todd Wilcox of the Eureka Police Department, “All we know is that he was found at 1:11 A.M. An officer was on scene within a few minutes. What [Burrell] did between the jail and [the parking lot,] I do not know.”
What we do know is that Burrell’s choices and an increasingly full county jail system landed him in the wrong place at the wrong time.