By David M. Greenwald
A man who has been held in violation of probation from a 17-year-old marijuana possession conviction will be forced to remain in custody, after the Arizona Supreme Court granted the state’s appeal of a ruling that had ordered Navajo County to set a release hearing.
In July, the Arizona Court of Appeals ordered a new hearing for Neko Wilson, who has been fighting the marijuana charge for the past year since a California court released him after 10 years—after he plead to two counts of robbery.
With the ruling by the state’s Supreme Court, Neko Wilson, will continue to be held without bail or other possibilities for release until the court makes a decision. Attorney Lee Phillips, representing Wilson in this matter, has been trying to get him released on the basis of his preexisting conditions in the face of the COVID pandemic.
The Appellate Court had ruled that Wilson was being held illegally and had ruled that the court needed to immediately set conditions and a hearing for release.
In July 2019, Neko Wilson, having been freed from prison for eight months in California, was taken back into custody by Arizona officials. Attorneys said initially they were unaware of the probation violation in Arizona.
Initially, Neko Wilson was released and allowed to return to California. But on July 2, 2019, the judge was persuaded by the prosecutor that the law required them to put him into custody and hold him without the possibility of release.
“This truly feels like vindictive prosecution and delay. Neko and my family are absolutely devastated,” said San Francisco Deputy Public Defender Jacque Wilson on Thursday. He has been trying to free his brother for over a year now. “I see injustice through my work every day, but I’ve never seen anything like this. Neko is being held in custody on a 17-year-old marijuana case. How is this not cruel and unusual punishment?”
This all began in 2003 when Neko Wilson was stopped on the highway in Navajo County, Arizona, with just under five pounds of marijuana. The prosecutors did not charge him until 2005 and he defended the case in 2006. He was placed on probation in 2006 and released in California where he remained on probation until 2009.
At that point he was arrested and charged with two felony murder charges. He pleaded guilty. He has since been resentenced under PC section 1437 and he was released after nearly 10 years, in October 2018.
“We had no idea that there were still any issues in Arizona,” Phillips said in a July press conference.
He was arrested May 1, 2019, during a traffic stop in California. “He was illegally detained according to the court of appeals for about one year.”
The issue is complicated by the fact that we are in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, Arizona is one of the states whose COVID-19 cases have skyrocketed and, as Jacque Wilson charged, “We have individuals who are housed in the county jail there who are being treated less than human.”
Lee Phillips explained, “He suffers two conditions that the CDC has identified as being conditions that subject him to the highest possible risk of death or serious injury if he’s infected.”
Moreover, as Jacque Wilson noted, the issues of the Navajo County jail and the conditions inside “are a public safety issue.”
Nine guards or staff tested positive for COVID, Wilson said. “This is a public safety disaster,” he said.
He played a recording of a two-minute clip of Neko Wilson describing conditions in the jail in mid-May.
“We are locked down, 18 to 21 hours a day,” he said. “They are only giving us cleaning stuff one time a day.”
They are locked down unable to come out of their cells right now, there are three people in those small cells and they may be exposed to COVID through their cell mates.
“It is no wonder so many people believe Neko is the victim of a racially motivated vindictive prosecution and has been illegally held in the Navajo County jail for over a year without a release hearing,” Phillips said Wednesday. “Neko deserves to have his day in court now.”
“We knew Black lives didn’t matter to them in Navajo County,” said Jacque Wilson. “Now we know they don’t matter in Arizona either.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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