Nevada County law enforcement works to balance public safety, health concerns
Between March 10 and March 18 — the date Gov. Gavin Newsom instituted a stay-at-home order — Nevada County’s jail had about 30 misdemeanor arrests and a dozen felony bookings.
From April 1 to Wednesday, Wayne Brown Correctional Facility saw a dramatic decrease in booked arrests — five misdemeanor arrests and seven felonies — in part due to less criminal activity but also due to COVID-19 concerns that instituted new protocols for who gets booked and held in custody. Those restrictions tightened even further Monday, after the state Judicial Council adopted a statewide emergency bail schedule that sets bail at zero for most misdemeanor and lower-level felony offenses.
“It’s hyperbole to say local law enforcement is not booking anyone,” said Grass Valley Police Capt. Steve Johnson. “Obviously, we are trying to be smart about booking suspects, and limit bookings … But local law enforcement is doing whatever we can to safeguard the community.”
Jail Commander Sam Brown started instituting precautions before the governor’s order, suspending inmate visitations and volunteer programs, and encouraging law enforcement entities to issue a citation or file a criminal case with the District Attorney’s Office for low-level misdemeanor offenses.
Now, that process has accelerated, although it is still a continually evolving work in progress, officials said.
As an example, on Tuesday the California Highway Patrol arrested a Nevada City man, Victor Garcia, on charges that included vehicle theft and carrying a concealed weapon, after he ran out of gas at a Highway 20 rest stop.
The back-and-forth discussion that took place before booking was extensive, said Officer Mike Steele.
Garcia was a felon in possession of a firearm and a stolen vehicle, Steele said, adding, “We deem that a danger to the public. … The firearm was a huge issue, and we’re still not clear as to circumstances of the vehicle theft. We felt he presented an immediate threat to the public.”
Garcia was transported to the county jail and a questionnaire he filled out there indicated a need for COVID-19 screening, Steele said. He was then taken to Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital, where a test with a quick turnaround time was completed. After the hospital cleared him for incarceration, he was taken back to the jail for booking, Steele said.
“We wanted to take every precaution we could,” he said, adding, “I think it was beneficial, to ensure there was no unnecessary exposure.”
According to Steele, the California Highway Patrol’s policy typically is not to issue citations fur DUI charges. But now, he said, officers are using their discretion is misdemeanor drunken driving cases, to cite and release the suspect if there is someone who can take the driver and make sure they get home safely.
“Our ultimate priority is public safety,” Steele said, a sentiment echoed by Johnson.
case by case basis
While the directives from the state have changed over the last few weeks, Grass Valley’s police force remains “very much committed to keeping the community safe,” Johnson said.
“We’re not shying away from calls for service,” he added. “Although if there are calls that can be handled by telephone and don’t need a face-to-face intervention, we are encouraging that.”
Like other law enforcement agencies in the county, Grass Valley is evaluating every potential booking arrest with an eye to balance public safety with health concerns. Johnson described the process as a “vetting” in close collaboration with jail staff.
“What we’re moving to (is evaluating) if there is someone who is a danger to the public, if they could hurt someone or themselves, or they are going to commit further crimes — if there’s a good reason they should be incarcerated,” he said. “We’re working through those on a case-by-case basis, there’s no blanket (approach).”
Even some misdemeanor charges will result in booking if the circumstances warrant it, Johnson said.
On Wednesday, an 18-year-old woman from Sacramento fell into that category and was booked on charges of being under the influence of a controlled substance and resisting arrest. She was subsequently released on $5,000 in bond, jail records show.
“In that case, the initial call was a report that a woman was inside their car and appeared to be trying to steal it,” Johnson said.
When the officer arrived, the suspect had walked off but was quickly located. The woman, identified as Nicole Ashley Adams, ran from the officer but was detained after a short pursuit, authorities said.
“She was showing signs of being under the influence, exhibiting off behavior, and seemed to be hallucinating,” Johnson said.
Adams was taken into custody and transported to the hospital, where she tested positive for high levels of methamphetamine and marijuana, Johnson said she tried again to flee and had to be chased down on foot, he added.
After Adams was medically cleared, she was taken for booking because of her erratic behavior and attempt to steal a vehicle, Johnson said.
“Her behavior was considered likely to continue,” he said. “This was a perfect example of how, working with the jail, they were able to accept the booking.”
Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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