Child Abusers Eligible for Release Under California’s $0 Bail Mandate, Sheriff Says

April 21, 2020 Updated: April 22, 2020

San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon has publicly opposed the California Judicial Council’s emergency order granting zero-dollar bail in misdemeanor and lower-level felony cases, after he was forced to release a repeat child abuse suspect immediately after his arrest.

The order went into effect April 13 in an effort to limit the spread of the CCP virus among inmates by decreasing the jail population, and will last until 90 days after the statewide emergency is lifted or until amended or repealed by the Judicial Council.

Speaking to FOX 11, McMahon called the state’s order dangerous and unnecessary, and said he will now have to release hundreds of potentially dangerous criminals back into the public, compromising the community’s sense of safety and well-being.

“I just don’t think it’s good government, and it’s not safe to force the release of people on zero bail,” McMahon said. “The people that we have in jail for the most part are felons.”

The mandate orders that all those accused of misdemeanors and some low-level felonies will now have cash bail set at zero while they await trial. Bail will still be permitted for more severe and violent cases provided in a list of 13 categories of exceptions, which include those suspected of sex or gun crimes; those facing domestic violence charges; or people under court-order restraining orders.

“We’ve already started releasing those fresh arrests that weren’t on the list of 13,” McMahon said. “The first night into Tuesday morning, there were six people arrested on felonies and were released on zero bail.”

McMahon said he had to release a repeat felony child abuser because child abuse doesn’t appear on the state’s list of exemptions for zero-cash bail.

“Felony child abuse does not fit into that list of 13, so even though this guy had a prior for domestic violence conviction for child abuse, he gets arrested for child abuse again, and then he gets released on zero bail with a court date in July,” McMahon said. “So that just doesn’t make any sense to me, maybe I’m missing something, but that doesn’t seem to me to be the right thing to do to protect the citizens of our county. If that person is in our custody, we can protect the victim, if he’s not, we can’t.”

While the California Judicial Council said it has approved the temporary emergency rule in an effort to “safely reduce jail populations,” while also meeting the state’s health directives as the CCP virus pandemic continues, McMahon said San Bernardino County doesn’t have an overcrowding problem, and that inmates are separated and ordered to wear masks.

“Our jail system has 7,700 beds and our current population today is like 5,020, so there’s 2,700 empty beds in our system,” McMahon said, adding that some 500 inmates are now eligible for zero cash bail, including some with serious previous felony convictions who judges previously denied bail to.

A spokesperson for the Judicial Council told FOX 11: “I can’t offer any legal interpretation of the new emergency rules, but what I can tell you is that the emergency rule that established the temporary bail schedule was put in place as a way to balance public safety with public health. I can add that in cases where there is a concern for safety, we know many courts are working closely with local justice system partners in making release decisions.”

Statewide, 115 inmates and 89 corrections employees have tested positive for the CCP virus, The Associated Press reported.