Free To Kill: Some violent felons released on technicalities
TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - 93 homicides in Tucson last year. And 21 so far this year.
That’s averaging more than one a week.
The Tucson police chief said that gun violence is trending at a five year high again this year.
And that has the police chief and Pima County sheriff are worried, saying violent felons are being released from jail over and over again, but shouldn’t be.
A violent felon with an extensive criminal history, ordered not to possess a weapon, is released by the court last year.
Robert Rosas, many would argue, should have been sitting in jail awaiting trial.
While out on pretrial release, police say, he shot and killed another man on the southside.
Sheriff Chris Nanos believes the current system is broken.
“I’ve been here a year and I’m like, I’ve seen enough. It’s not working.” he said.
As it appears to be in this case.
Just over the past three years, Rosas pleaded guilty to dangerous drugs and assault charges, served time, and placed on probation.
Then he’s arrested again last year for firing a shotgun during an argument with a neighbor even though he’s under court order to not possess a weapon.
He’s released to Pretrial Services on a $5,000 cash bond despite an alarming history.
A court document reveals Rosas has been arrested 27 times for misdemeanors and 10 times for felonies over three decades.
He’s had four convictions, probation revoked once, absconded from parole twice, revoked from parole once, and 20 arrest warrants for failing to appear for court hearings.
The violations don’t stop there. Rosas’ release is granted after he claims he takes care of his 84-year-old mother and has no financial means to post bond.
He fails to show up for a status conference on June 30.
Another arrest warrant is issued then quashed about a week later.
He misses another hearing a month later another arrest warrant is issued.
Then six days later, he’s arrested for killing a man.
Nanos is concerned some violent felons, who are poor and/or minority, are getting a low bond without having set up the right supervision and resources to ensure they’re staying on track to avoid being sent back to jail.
Nanos, along with County Attorney Laura Conover, have pushed to reduce the jail population from over 2,000 to a target of 1,300, but, he said, not like this.
“You put that up, stand that up and you show me that, hey this works, man. I’m all in,” said Nanos, “Because I can’t trust you. I want that built first, show me that you’ve got it.”
A system better built to help violent felons like Rosas and Zachary Naifeh, who was on parole at the time he’s accused of killing two people.
Just the month before, he had been released to pretrial services and ordered to participate in monitoring and counseling as a condition of his release.
“It think it was the cart before the horse, right? Hey, let’s just reduce the numbers and then we’ve done reform. Well, no, no,” Nanos said.
Tucson Police Chief Chad Kasmar agrees.
“I think that what we did is, we turned off the current system before we designed a new system. That’s a challenge,” he said.
A better built system, both say, that supports probation.
The department had been directed to reduce petitions to revoke by 10% each fiscal year starting in 2018.
It’s more than met the mark.
Probation data shows the counts dropped each year from 604 to 404, a 33% reduction.
However, since 2018 Pima County ranks second in the state for re-offenses, 16.68% returned.
The statewide average is just under 13%.
David Sanders is the Pima County Probation Director. He agrees the county has a re-offender issue.
“We’re trying to minimize revocations for what we call technical violations. Drug use, missing appointments at services, missing appointments at the probation department. Those are all technical violations, re-arrests without a new conviction is even a technical violation. We’re trying to rely on sanctions short of revocation for technical violations. I don’t know really why so many probationers in Pima County are rearrested,” he said.
Sanders’ explanation might explain why Rosas is part of the re-offender data. His probation was revoked last March for failing to appear for a hearing on a 2019 drug charge.
In June, his conditions of release had been modified, Rosas then missed two court meetings this year, the same month he’s arrested for murder.
Other violent felon cases this year include Ray Drew Kittrell, who’s sitting in jail right now charged with drive-by shooting.
At the time of the crime, Kittrell had been on probation for burglary and ordered not to possess firearms because of prior felony convictions.
Daniel Rodriguez had violated his probation last year on a charge of attempted aggravated assault with a dangerous weapon, but the petition to revoke is dismissed.
Six months later, he’s behind bars accused of killing a man at an apartment complex.
Could it be that the county pushed too far, too fast?”
“Well, I don’t know. The county is certainly moving a rapid clip right now,” Sanders said.
To try to plug the critical resource holes, he said, like housing and drug treatment.
But he stands by his department saying it’s doing the best it can despite a shortage of resources and staffing.
“Both the county attorney and the superior court judges have a lot of confidence in our probation officers to be effective, to hold people accountable, to try and let things not get out of hand, to provide services where they’re needed,” Sanders said.
Next week at the Board of Supervisors meeting, County Attorney Laura Conover is expected to present a proposal that might revamp the system.
Both Nanos and Kasmar say Conover hasn’t reached out to them for their input.
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