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EDITORIAL: Releasing felony suspect had ripple effects

EDITORIAL: Releasing felony suspect had ripple effects

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THE practice of denying bond to crime suspects prior to trial is one of the targets of those advocating for police reform in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis. Under the Constitution, suspects must be considered innocent until found guilty in a court of law, and nobody should be denied bond based on their race or income.

While suspects accused of violent felonies – such as murder, rape, and armed robbery—should be held in the local jail until trial, those arrested for lesser offenses who are not considered to be an ongoing threat to the community should be released on bond.

“Citizens want to be safe, and they rely on the police and prosecutor to do everything they can to make them safe,” Stafford County Commonwealth’s Attorney Eric Olsen recently told WTOP. “But that does not necessarily mean a knee-jerk reaction to lock everybody up that’s charged with a crime.”

But the corollary to that is that there should not be a knee-jerk reaction to allow every suspect out on bond either, especially if they are accused of a felony. A recent case in Stafford County illustrates what can happen when prosecutors and judges make the wrong call.

On Jan. 23, 2019, Hussein Jarrar of Stafford was arrested and charged with burglary by deputies responding to an alarm at the Chicas Deli Market on Garrisonville Road. Olsen said that Jarrar was released on bond the same day even though burglary is a felony under the Virginia Code.

But Jarrar’s criminal activity was far from over. As the Free Lance-Star’s Keith Epps reported, he later pleaded guilty to 23 counts of burglary, grand larceny, and destruction of property during seven subsequent burglaries and one attempted break-in. He is scheduled to be sentenced for these crimes on Oct. 8.

That’s seven other victims who would have been spared the trauma and financial loss of a burglary if Jarrar had not been released on bond.

But the ripple effect did not stop there. One of Jarrar’s burglaries was at a neighbor’s house last summer while the neighbor was away on vacation. Deputies said that a 38-caliber handgun Jarrar took from the home was later used by 17-year-old Caine Davis to murder 20-year-old Troy Barnett and shoot his 18-year-old girlfriend, Laura Gomez-De La Cruz, in the head outside the 5 Twelve convenience store on Garrisonville Road on July 3, 2019. Davis was recently convicted of the shootings and ordered to serve a sentence of life in prison.

Olsen said that Jarrar was not involved in the “ambush” murder of Barnett and the nearly fatal wounding of Gomez-De La Cruz—except for stealing the gun. But he wouldn’t have been able to steal the neighbor’s gun that was used to kill Barnett, or been a suspect in five subsequent burglaries at local businesses, if he had been in jail.

It’s easy in hindsight to criticize Stafford County officials for letting Jarrar out on bond back in January 2019 when he was first apprehended for burglarizing the deli. And to be fair, they had no way of knowing then that over the next five months that crime would be followed by many more and eventually lead to a critical wounding and a homicide.

But there would have been a lot fewer crime victims in Stafford County if Jarrar had been kept off the streets until his trial.

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