Low bonds, 'flawed' justice system upsets York Police chief

Robinson frustrated to see accused drug dealers back on streets

jmcfadden@heraldonline.comOctober 22, 2012 

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— York Police Chief Andy Robinson on Monday expressed frustration at the “flawed” criminal justice system he said let 11 accused drug dealers arrested in a joint police and drug unit sting last week back on the streets.

York County Magistrate Leon Yard set bond for the 11 suspected dealers police arrested in an area of York called the “Valley.” By Monday afternoon, some of the same “street-level” dealers Robinson said officials spent four hours watching and arresting were out of jail.

Yard was unable to be reached for comment Monday.

The sweep required manpower from 55 officers with the York Police Department, York County Sheriff’s Office and the county’s multijurisdictional drug unit. Officers were equipped with 15 vehicles, several bloodhounds and a State Law Enforcement Division helicopter.

Officials conducted a months-long investigation into the Valley community’s street-level dealers, Robinson said, with hopes of making “a dent” in the area’s drug activity to curb frequent shootings, robberies and assaults.

Dissatisfied with the bond amounts set, Robinson said he feels officers’ efforts were moot.

“You spend all that time, all that effort ...” Robinson said, and “the defendants are out before you get their paperwork completed. It’s very disheartening.”

“Operation Fall Back” produced 46 warrants, 31 of which were served Friday. Officials seized $2,000 of drug money, along with five weapons.

Three more people – Willie Ramon Walton, 25; Jonathan Michael Gibson, 18; and Jeffrey Davis, 44 – were arrested over the weekend. Charges range from distribution of crack within proximity of a school to conspiracy to distribute marijuana. Davis, a third-time offender, according to police, was released Friday on a $40,000 bond.

“We’ve been dealing with most of them for several years,” Robinson said. “If it was their first time, I could see it a little bit better. But when it’s a repeat offender ... it makes no sense.”

First time-offenders can be just as dangerous as repeat violators, he said.

“They may have been in jail on who knows how many other violent charges,” he said. “They may have a three-, four-, five-page criminal record on other charges. The judge is supposed to take into consideration that they’re a danger to society.”

Magistrates, Robinson said, can be as inconsistent as the bond amounts they set.

“One judge can be a real tough judge and set high bonds on low charges,” Robinson said. “Another judge can set a $10,000 bond on every charge” he comes across.

In an email to media, Robinson wrote: “The frequent offenders were given the same paltry bond as the first-time offenders. A look at current York County Detention Center inmates will clearly show that someone arrested for shoplifting has received a higher bond than these felony drug dealers!”

No shoplifters were incarcerated Monday evening, but the Sheriff’s Office website shows that a 53-year-old Rock Hill woman is in jail on a $50,000 bond for violating her probation and stealing items worth less than $2,000. Ten of the dealers arrested Friday have bonds lower than hers.

‘Balance’ for due process

Chief Magistrate Lynne Benfield was unable to give “rhyme or reason” that Yard set the bond amounts he did, but she said, “You always look to see if they’re local, you look to see if they’re a flight risk or threat to the community and if they’re repeat offenders.”

Eric Sevigny, a criminal justice professor at the University of South Carolina researching the sentencing and incarceration of drug offenders, said a conflict between police and judges is common when bond decisions are made.

Police believe dealers will get back on the streets, he said, but judges try to maintain “a balance” and give defendants their due process.

“The history of this is that socioeconomic status comes into play because people can’t get out of prison” and can’t build a case to defend themselves, Sevigny said. Magistrates also consider if defendants have children they have to take care of, or if a credible witness can “vouch” for them.

Jason Mobley, a bondsman for Metro Bonding in downtown Rock Hill, said magistrates have a minimum and maximum amount of bond to set with each charge.

“They can go anywhere in between,” he said, adding that judges may look at who drug dealers sold their supplies to and how much they had at the time of their arrest.

Marvin Brown, the county’s multijurisdictional drug task force’s commander, agreed that bonds set on drug charges seem to be lower in York County than in many other areas. The county does, he said, secure lengthy sentences.

Drug cases are tried in court anywhere between 90 to 120 business days after an arrest, Brown said. Neighboring counties such as Chester or Lancaster, he said, may not resolve drug cases for three years.

‘Morale problems’

In Clover, at least 75 percent of the people police arrest are repeat offenders, said Police Chief Randy Grice.

For high-level cocaine dealers, putting up bail money is easy, he said. For officers, it’s irritating.

“If you do the same thing over and over and over, you seem like you’re making headway and you get pushed back again, it causes frustration and all types of morale problems,” Grice said. “The same guy you dealt with yesterday is back on the streets.”

“It doesn’t seem like the time fits the crime,” he said.

“The court system is only as good as the laws,” said York County Sheriff Bruce Bryant, adding that it’s unfair to law enforcement officials who risk their lives to put some of the same people behind bars “over and over and over again.”

Bryant agreed that bond set for a third-time offender should be higher than a first-time offender’s. But he said there are many “extenuating circumstances” to consider when a bond is set, such as a defendant’s attitude when he appears before a judge.

“You don’t know what was going on with the judge at the time the bond was set,” he said.

Bond amounts set:

• Thomas Castle, 58, distribution of crack - third offense, distribution of crack in the proximity of a park: $20,000 bond

• Marion Barnett, 67, distribution of crack - third offense or more, distribution of crack in the proximity of a park: $20,000 bond

• Odell Brown Jr., 28, three counts of distribution of crack - second offense, three counts of distribution of crack in the proximity of a park: $60,000 bond

• Dontaria Akeem Hicks-Jones, 22, two counts of distribution of crack, distribution of crack in the proximity of a park, distribution of crack in the proximity of a school: $20,000 bond

• Monta Derell Neely, 22, distribution of crack, distribution of crack in the proximity of a park: $20,000 bond

• Marquis Antwain Patton, 23, distribution of crack - second offense, distribution of crack in the proximity of a park: $20,000 bond

• Antwain Lamaries Carter, 21, distribution of crack, distribution of crack in the proximity of a park: $10,000 bond

• David Willie Moore, 55, distribution of crack, distribution of crack in the proximity of a park: $20,000 bond

• Gregory Davis, 47, two counts of distribution of crack - third offense or more, two counts of distribution of crack in the proximity of a park: $40,000 bond

• Wesley Charles Huffstetler, 18, two counts of distribution of marijuana, two counts of distribution of marijuana in the proximity of a park: $20,000 bond

• Roosevelt McClurkin, age and bond unavailable, possession of marijuana

• Willie Ramon Walton, 25, two counts of distribution of crack - third offense and distribution of crack in proximity to a school: $90,000 bond

• Johnathan Michael Gibson, 18, distribution of marijuana (conspiracy) and distribution of marijuana in proximity to a park: $7,000 bond

• Jeffrey Davis, 44, two counts of distribution of crack- third offense or more and two counts of distribution of crack in proximity to a school: $40,000 bond

Below is the email sent from York Police Chief Andy Robinson to local media:

"This email is just for FYI in case anyone would care to question why it is so difficult to do anything with drug dealers on our streets! I have attached a list of arrestees along with bond amounts set by Judge Leon Yard at the York County Detention Center pertaining to Operation “Fall Back.” As you can see there was NO consideration for the defendant pertaining to 2nd or 3rd offense. The frequent offenders were given the same paltry bond as the first time offenders. Most of these individuals were back on the streets before their paperwork was completed by law enforcement.

A look at current York County Detention Center inmates will clearly show that someone arrested for shoplifting has received a higher bond than these felony drug dealers! Failure to stop for blue light & reckless driving, DUS & DUI, Voyeurism & resisting arrest, and Criminal Domestic Violence 2nd Offense are just a few charges listed on the YCDC website that have higher bonds. What is wrong with this picture? I am sure if you look at some of the other bond amounts on the website for murder and some robberies you would be appalled at the absurd amounts some judges have set to allow these menaces to society out of jail!

I just want everyone to know that we work as hard as we possibly can to get these people off of our streets and to try and make a positive impact on society, but the judicial system is so flawed that they are back out on the streets in no time doing what they were doing before they were arrested. It is just so discouraging to those of us in law enforcement trying to make a difference when this type of thing occurs. The public needs to be aware!!"

Jonathan McFadden 803-329-4082

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