Commentary: Yolo DA Keeps Attacking Zero Bail, Even Though…

By David M. Greenwald

One-sided press releases are not only the norm, but expected.  With that said, the continued assault on zero bail by the Yolo County DA’s Office is baffling.  It is baffling not only because it is one-sided, but also because it leaves so much out.

The DA’s office on Monday once again put out a press release on the number of new crimes committed—according to them at least—by individuals released on zero bail.  For much of the last year, they have released updates on this theme—we are talking more than five press releases.

Never mind most of these are alleged crimes, there are two critical pieces of information that the DA leaves out of their frequent press releases.

In the latest press release, they report: “January 4, 2021 –As a result of Yolo County Superior Court’s continued use of $0 bail, over 526 new crimes have been committed.”

In April, the California Judicial Council imposed the “$0” Emergency Bail Schedule in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The DA’s office adds: “Although rescinded in June, the Yolo County Superior Court continues to use the Emergency Bail Schedule.  Court officials indicated the Emergency Bail Schedule will remain in effect until the pandemic ends.”

They update their figures here:

“Since April 13, 2020, 427 individuals have been arrested and released on $0 bail a total of 524 times, with some benefitting on multiple occasions.  The individuals who have reoffended since their release on $0 bail in Yolo County have committed over 526 new crimes in Yolo County alone.  Those new crimes include 217 felonies and 309 misdemeanors, including crimes such as Attempted Murder, Assault with a Deadly Weapon or Assault by Means of Force Likely to Product Great Bodily Injury (16 new victims), Robbery (8 new victims), Burglary (32 new victims), felony domestic violence (7 new victims), possession of an assault weapon, gang crimes, and dozens of other new felony and misdemeanor crimes.  Nearly 40 percent of those released on $0 have reoffended at least one time.”

Then they add: “The Emergency Bail Schedule simply looks at the arresting offense and releases individuals on $0 bail, even those on probation or parole, without conducting a risk assessment for dangerousness.

“Additionally, upon release on $0 bail, offenders are given a court date 4-5 months in the future.  This makes it nearly impossible to assess those individuals who are homeless, suffer from a substance use disorder, or from a serious mental illness in order to enroll them into one of the county’s diversion programs such as mental health court or addiction intervention court.”

The problem here is that they fail to inform the community that they themselves played a role in creating and continuing this policy.  In fact, our sources tell us at no point have they requested that the presiding judge end zero bail.

Finally, while they are measuring the impact by crime, by another measure, the Yolo County policy has been a tremendous success.

Back in September, ABC 10 out of Sacramento covered the issue of jail releases.  They interviewed Melinda Aiello, Assistant Chief Deputy District Attorney with the Yolo County DA’s Office. “It’s a get-out-of-jail-free card,” Aeillo said. “There’s no real risk assessment done and there’s no consequences because they’re not even brought back to court for four to five months.”

But what gets curious here is that it appears that the DA in a June letter to Judge Sam McAdam, the presiding judge, said that they supported the continuation of zero bail.

In a letter from Melinda Aiello, she wrote that “we recognize the on-going need to maintain a reasonable jail population and after consultation with County Counsel encourage the court to return to its Emergency and Provisional Bail Schedule that became effective March 26, 2020.”

So, has the DA’s office changed their position?  Have they argued for remanding people into custody?  It appears not.  So what’s the angle here?

When I spoke with Tracie Olson, the Yolo County Public Defender, on our recent podcast, she said, “We know that people have been released on zero bail and been rearrested.”

But she said that “most are re-arrested on misdemeanors”  or “probation violations,” which don’t amount to a crime.

“The DAs have the ability when they see cases come through to ask for deviation for zero bail,” she pointed out.  “Judges have the authority to deviate from zero bail.”

So, from her perspective, “I think it’s very simplistic to say it’s zero bail and then end of story.”

Olson pointed out that when Yolo County made the determination as to whether to keep zero bail, they solicited the opinions from all of the stakeholders in the process and they all agreed—Judge McAdam, public defender, probation, sheriff, and DA—to keep zero bail.

Judge McAdam said at that time that if there are cases that shouldn’t be zero bail, “utilize the statutes that are in place.”

Olson told me, “I am personally not aware of any that have had a request for zero bail, the request was denied, and then they went out and committed a new crime.”

Tracie Olson further said that she was not aware that the DA has requested either ending zero bail or changes to it.

“Usually those sorts of policy questions—they are emails that include all the parties,” she said.  “I have not seen any emails or requests to re-look at zero bail.”

There is another layer to this as well.  The DA’s metric is crimes.  But what they have failed to note is that the policy is meant to reduce jail population to prevent the spread of COVID—to not only those incarcerated but also jail staff.

We spoke with someone recently at Mule Creek in Ione, and not only did 700 incarcerated people have positive COVID tests, but over 300 staff members contracted it as well.  COVID is raging out of control in jails like Santa Rita and Yuba County Jail and also various prisons.

And in Yolo, according to the latest update, with a jail population of 225, and one-quarter of the in-custody population tested, there were zero positive tests.  Yolo County has kept a remarkable record in that respect.

Two days ago Santa Rita, the jail in Alameda County, reported 87 cases, and they have had several deaths—both among incarcerated people and also sheriff employees.  That hasn’t happened in Yolo County and this policy is a big part of it—but you wouldn’t know that from the DA’s press release.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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