Does Meck County's pre-trial release program work?

A Charlotte man involved in a wild gun battle shouldn't have been out of jail in the first place-- at least that's what some community members are saying.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A Charlotte man charged in a wild gun battle shouldn’t have been out of jail in the first place-- at least that’s what some say, blaming a program called pre-trial release for setting him free while he was awaiting trial on other charges.

And this is just one example of several cases NBC Charlotte found where the system seems to be broken.

“I said, 'Oh my god, they shooting!'”

Queen Funderburk was walking out the front door when she realized she was right in the middle of a gun battle on Beatties Ford Road.

Funderburk says she was terrified when it happened earlier this summer, but now she’s just plain angry.

“Whoever he is they need to keep him in there 'cause somebody could have got killed!”

This time, J’lan Floyd is in jail awaiting trial, but just months before police say he was charged in the shootout, he was let out of jail on what’s called pre-trial release while waiting to be tried on a host of other gun-related charges.

The County runs the program and makes recommendations about which defendants should be eligible for pre-trial release to judges, who then make the final decision.

Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio says, “The goal is to allow people to be back in the community pending trial, assuming they’re no risk to the community, they don’t pose a public safety risk and that they will actually come back and show up for trial.”

“I think it creates a community safety issue,” says Marcus Philemon.

He heads up “Courtwatch”, a community group that tracks repeat offenders through the court system.

NBC Charlotte worked with his organization, combing through court records to find defendants who were let out of jail on pre-trial release.

Jakieran Harris was convicted of cutting off his electronic monitoring bracelet in 2014 and yet earlier this year, a judge let him out on pre-trial release.

Phillemon points out, “Not only has he cut off his electronic monitor in the past but when pre-trial allowed him to go through program, he had a bond hearing two weeks later-- he didn’t show up for that court date and was on the run for five months before they re-arrested him.”

But county manager insists Harris was still initially a good candidate for pre-trial.

"Even though there had to be a question about whether or not he was going to show up to court if he’d proven in the past he didn’t?" NBC Charlotte asked. 

"That’s correct," the county manager says, "But we look at it holistically.”

But she admits the county eventually ordered Harris out of the program, though a judge ultimately ruled against them.

“The judge struck the order so he was basically in the community under no supervision at all."

NBC Charlotte was set up to talk to that judge, Judge Regan Miller, but he canceled on us. But, we did find video of him touting the success of pre-trial services.

In it, he says, “I think it’s fair not only to the individuals but to our community.”

Some in the community don’t see it that way.

“I don’t know why they would want to let an individual out that’s been a repeat offender and proven that they can’t abide by the law.”

But the county manager insists the program is working, pointing to stats that say 98-percent of defendants involved in pre-trial release do what they’re supposed to do: show up to court and don’t get charged in additional crimes.

But tell that to the people who were dodging bullets on Beatties Ford Road.

Funderburk says, “The police said he was glad we weren’t sitting in my car cause one of us probably would have got shot.”

The Charlotte program is one of the first in the country, and other counties are modeling their programs after Mecklenburg County’s. The program is also under review right now to see if it is actually working.

Copyright 2016 WCNC


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