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Inmate released under Harris County Judge’s coronavirus order, back in jail on new charges

HOUSTON – An inmate released under a short-lived order by Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo to help mitigate the spread of coronavirus in Harris County Jail, was arrested Tuesday and faces new charges.

Hidalgo’s order called for the release of certain non-violent inmates in an effort to reduce the jail’s population during the COVID-19 crisis.

According to the Harris County Justice Administration Department (JAD), 12 men were released under Hidalgo’s order before it was blocked by a felony court judge. According to JAD officials, Quaran Isiaha Pope was released on April 3. Bond paperwork revealed that Pope was released, pursuant to Hidalgo’s order. Pope, who records show has a prior criminal history, was released while facing charges of possessing another person’s ID.

Channel 2 Investigates learned Pope was arrested again on Tuesday. He is now charged with possessing other people’s IDs and burglary of a motor vehicle.

This type of incident has been at the push-pull of trying to find a way to bring the jail’s population down to prevent further spread of the COVID-19 virus. KPRC 2 Legal Analyst Brian Wice explains why, even in the face of a pandemic, that is no small task.

“There is no issue more politicized than whether or not inmates, who constitute a potential danger to Harris county citizens and Texans, ought to be released from confinement,” said Wice.

When Hidalgo’s order was blocked by felony court judge Herb Ritchie, Sheriff Ed Gonzalez turned to a federal court judge to help settle the matter. Late Tuesday Judge Lee Rosenthal notified all parties she would not intervene in this particular matter.

“A federal district court asked to wade into policy and political disagreements among State and County elected officials is in risky territory,” Judge Rosenthal wrote in her ruling that is part of a larger civil lawsuit involving Harris County’s bail practices. The lawsuit is ongoing and the judge is requiring regular updates on the jail’s population and efforts to release non-violent inmates.

The Harris County District Attorney’s Office reported out of the 1,470 names initially considered for release, 372 were released and another 32 were granted personal bonds but remain in custody. The DA’s office is objecting to the release of 1,066 more inmates.

The DA’s office also notified the federal court judge it will review another 311 inmates who are not on the sheriff’s initial list.

As it stands now, 100 sheriff’s office employees have tested positive for COVID-19, of whom 85 work in the jail. Sixty-eight inmates have also tested positive.

Following our initial report, Channel 2 Investigates met with Hidalgo.

“What the health experts have told us is to be in a position where we’re safe we need to have the jail population around 5,000,” said Hidalgo.

To hit that number, the county would have to release nearly 2,500 inmates. Hidalgo said the county did look at transferring inmates to facilities out of the area. Unsurprisingly, Hidalgo said they were denied.

“In many ways, it’s each man for himself with this. Each community is trying to figure out what to do with their incarcerated population,” said Hidalgo.

The judge said the county also considered building a temporary facility.

“It wouldn’t have met the jail standards for even the level of minimum security jail,” said Hidalgo.

The county is now looking to transfer 80 healthy inmates to an empty juvenile detention facility and another 600 to a third jail, known as ‘Little Baker,’ Hidalgo said. The jail sits across from one of the county’s main jails on Baker street. However, that facility is empty because it is in need of repairs and Hidalgo said those repairs will likely take another three weeks to complete.

Hidalgo also responded to the re-arrest of Pope.

“We don’t make policy according to headlines. You can’t be a hundred percent certain of everything. We’d have to arrest everybody in Harris County to make sure nobody is going to get in any sort of trouble,” said Hidalgo.

She also said she does not plan to file any more legal action over this issue for fear furthering delaying the process.