"Zero bail" amid pandemic irks law enforcement; public defenders say police are being alarmist

It’s been 10 days since a new “zero bail” schedule went into effect across California. That means suspects in most misdemeanors and low-level felonies don’t have to post any bail. Many are being cited and released, instead of going to jail.

Law enforcement says career criminals – including burglars - are taking advantage of the situation, getting arrested over and over, with no real consequence.

"They absolutely know about the zero-bail schedule and that if there was a time to do criminal activity, now would be a good time," said Alameda County sheriff's Sgt. Ray Kelly.

Kelly said county-wide, 27 people have been re-arrested since the zero-bail schedule went into effect. He said repeat offenders are getting a free pass - and wasting officers’ time. That's about 3 percent of the total number of inmates who have been released from Santa Rita since March 1. 

 "You, in theory, could go steal a car every single day and do the revolving door out of the county jail," Kelly said.

 In Fremont, Jonathan Reyes allegedly ran from a stolen BMW on I-880  on Wednesday night, while the car was still moving. The empty car crashed into the center divide. Police say Reyes fought with officers and was subdued - but ended up being cited and released.

Also in Fremont, Kristopher Sylvester was freed from jail after being suspected in a spree of school burglaries, police said. Nine days later, he was arrested in connection with the theft of 23 cars from Hertz Car Rental in San Jose. He was again released on zero bail.

And Rocky Music, busted by Oakland police for auto theft, was released from Santa Rita Jail in Dublin. He, too, didn’t sit idle for long, as "37 minutes later, he was down near our BART station in Dublin, when he decided to carjack the first victim," Kelly said.

Authorities said Music then tried to carjack a second victim in San Ramon, but was arrested with the help of Dublin police K-9. Music is now in custody. 

Public defenders said they take issue with the recent flurry of social-media posts by law enforcement highlighting crimes allegedly committed by repeat offenders.

"This idea that dangerous and violent people are being cycled in and out of the jail is just not accurate," said Contra Costa County Public Defender Robin Lipetzky.

Lipetzky said everyone needs to be protected from COVID-19. She said law enforcement is being unnecessarily alarmist, because recidivism is a fact of life.

 "That was the case before the pandemic, that was the case before zero bail," Lipetzky said. "That will always be the case. But that’s not a reason not to try to address the critical situation that we are in right now.”

Brendon Woods, Alameda County public defender, agreed, saying, "We have to remember what sort of crimes they’re talking about here that are zero bail. They’re non-violent, non-serious low-level offenses. Those people would be getting out of custody anyway, they’re just getting out of custody sooner. "

In Brentwood, Adam Ortega was cited and released after police said he showed up at Voltaire Apse’s doorstep with a machete. The victim and police didn’t know about the weapon at the time and Ortega didn't have it in his possession when officers stopped him. Ortega was arrested only after a second incident days later – and spent only hours in jail.

"It’s frustrating that that’s how it is," Apse said. "I mean, it’s hard. Somebody, a suspect like that, can cause potential harm to people."

The zero-bail schedule will be in effect for 90 days after the pandemic is over. Law enforcement said that almost guarantees a busy summer for criminals and officers alike.

Henry Lee is a crime reporter for KTVU.  Email Henry at henry.lee@foxtv.com and follow him on Twitter@HenryLeeKTVU