This seems inevitable. At the behest of progressive-left advocacy groups, a number of jurisdictions across the country have been releasing felons and accused felons from state prisons and county jails, due to fears that the close-quarters living conditions put inmates at special risk of contracting the COVID-19 coronavirus.
Now local news in Tampa, Florida reports that a Hillsborough County jail inmate, 26-year-old Joseph Edwards Williams, has been indicted for a homicide committed on March 20 in the Progress Village area east of Hillsborough Bay. (H/t: Breitbart)
(Please note that this Joseph Williams is not to be confused with Joseph Edward Williams, a 63-year-old registered sex offender under civil commitment in Florida. The older Williams is a white male.)
Joseph Edwards Williams was released from the county jail on March 19. According to NBC News 8, “Online jail records show Williams had been released from custody at 8:02 a.m. on Thursday, March 19 per an administrative order aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19 in the county jails.”
Williams had been arrested March 13 for possession of heroin and possession of drug paraphernalia. He was “one of more than 100 inmates released from custody until trial.”
NBC 8 continues: “Williams appeared Tuesday afternoon in video court for his new charges: second degree murder with a firearm, a gun charge and resisting an officer. … he is now being held in jail with a combined bond of more than $250,000.”
WTSP 10 News reports: “[T]he 26-year-old is no stranger to the criminal justice system. He’s been arrested 35 times, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, and was previously convicted of felony burglary and several misdemeanors.”
Along with counties in Pennsylvania, California, and Illinois, New York City was executing a plan to release 300 inmates from Rikers Island in March, within days of Joseph Williams’s release near Tampa. A short time later, NYC found storefront burglaries up sharply in the city.
While Governor Greg Abbott of Texas ordered county and city authorities not to release inmates there, California jurisdictions decided on a combined statewide release of 3,500 inmates. Los Angeles County alone saw the release of some 1,700, representing about a tenth of the L.A. County inmate population.
Law enforcement priorities in the coronavirus crisis haven’t always seemed to be geared effectively to public safety. In Seattle, the chief of police, Carmen Best, urged residents to call 911 if they felt someone had called them by racist names.
Meanwhile, reporting this week indicates that Cook County, Illinois is refusing to disclose to the Chicago Police Department the names of inmates released from the county jails. The CPD rather naturally expects this will make it harder to give special attention to neighborhoods and addresses where indicted felons, many with prior criminal records, are now on the loose. It seems worth noting that under the normal terms of release, the CPD would have routine access to that information.
Residents of Chicago’s high-crime areas probably have sentiments about this similar to those of residents in Progress Village, Florida, and the adjacent town of Gibsonton, where Joseph Edwards Williams was arrested.
But the Hillsborough County sheriff has words of reassurance for such citizens.
“There is no question Joseph Williams took advantage of this health emergency to commit crimes while he was out of jail awaiting resolution of a low-level, non-violent offense,” Sheriff Chad Chronister said in a statement. “As a result, I call on the State Attorney to prosecute this defendant to the fullest extent of the law.”
That will no doubt be of some comfort to the family of Williams’s alleged victim, a male (not identified to the public) who died of a gunshot wound at a local hospital on March 20, 2020.