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Was it special treatment or standard practice?

A man arrested for domestic violence got out of jail before a bond hearing. Was he treated differently?

    Editor’s note: The suspect in this article was identified in the Tribune & Georgian after he was arrested, as is the newspaper's policy. In this story, he is identified only as "John Doe" in an effort to protect the victims involved in this crime, which also is a policy of the newspaper. The article is not about the individual who was arrested, but rather how the case was handled by the Camden County Sheriff's Office.

The man is very drunk, and he has a gun. He’s making death threats and says “if the cops show up a lot of people will be shot.” He fires the gun.

Deputies arrive. He ends up in a standoff with them and he’s on the phone with the sheriff? Yes, the sheriff. 

He comes out, the deputies arrest him and take him to the hospital to be cleared before going to jail because he’s suicidal. Then he’s released from the jail less than 12 hours later without seeing a judge or getting bonded out.

He was arrested that night on family violence charges and, per state law, anyone arrested for domestic violence must have a bond hearing before a judge. But this man didn’t see a judge until three days after he went home.

So was it special treatment? Could someone else get this deal?

“Depending on the situation, absolutely,” Sheriff Jim Proctor said. 

The arrest

This story begins with a call to 911 just before 10:45 p.m. June 1, according to the arrest warrant and other records. A 15-year-old girl says she and her mom came home and her father wouldn’t let them in the house. He yelled at her mom and pushed her to the ground. He has a gun. He’s trying to shoot himself. Her mom is trying to get the gun. He’s very drunk.

They get into the house, locking themselves in the daughter’s bedroom. They’re trapped, the girl tells the 911 dispatcher. He’s in the room next door, in the hallway. He says “if the cops show up a lot of people will be shot.” He doesn’t know that deputies are already on the way.

He says that he’ll kick in the bedroom door. He pounds on the door and threatens to kill them. Then the girl tells dispatch that the bedroom door is open and her father says he will kill himself or someone else, according to the dispatch report.

He fires the gun, the shot echoing to where the victims are hiding and through the phone to the 911 dispatcher. The girl and her mom cut the screen on the bedroom window and run to the neighbor’s house. The neighbor has a weapon. The windows and doors are locked. It’s 10:57 p.m.

Three deputies arrive. They cautiously approach the house with one deputy driving his patrol car as cover and the other two ducking in behind it. They see the man. He’s yelling and seems irate with his mother who has come over to try and help. He gets angrier. His mom and another man — who was not identified in reports — run “to the safety behind our cars,” a deputy wrote in the warrant.

He tells the deputies that this is private property, yells at them to leave and slams the door. He still has the gun.

The deputies establish a perimeter with their SUVs, turning their spotlights on the house. Another deputy arrives and he checks on the man’s wife and daughter. They’re OK.

The man comes outside, yells that he’s on the phone with the sheriff, goes back inside and slams the door. (The sheriff tells him to go outside and put his hands up.)

He threatens suicide and stays in the house with the gun. Then he comes back outside. He’s on the phone again, still talking to the sheriff. He walks toward the deputies and they arrest him. A deputy takes the phone and it really is the sheriff on the other end. It’s 11:43 p.m.

They tell him that he’s going to jail for simple battery and terroristic threats. He’s livid.

By 12:35 a.m., he’s on his way to the hospital to be cleared to go to jail.

He’s booked into the jail at 2:13 a.m. Sunday, June 2. The warrants go into the system at 3:31 a.m. Magistrate Judge Jennifer McGhan signs the warrants at 2:20 p.m. but John Doe left the jail at 1:42 p.m. with his father, who worked for the county for many years.

The release

Doe had a gun that he fired. He threatened to kill himself and others. A judge later found that he posed a significant danger but the sheriff’s office had let him go. So why did John Doe go home before he saw a judge?

“That was 100-percent me. I told them to let him out of jail. It’s nothing out of the ordinary. It happens on a regular basis. … If he had gotten out and gone home and done something stupid, I would have had hell to answer for,” said Maj. Chuck Byerly, chief deputy with the Camden County Sheriff’s Office.

After an arrest without a warrant, law enforcement officers have 48 hours to get a warrant from a judge. If they don’t, the person has to be released. A warrant for Doe’s arrest was submitted about an hour after he was booked into the jail. A judge signed the warrant within 48 hours but Doe left in less than 12 hours, just 40 minutes before the warrant was signed, and those charges were later marked as dismissed in jail records. 

“When he got out, there was no warrant issued at that time,” Byerly said. “… It’s nothing that’s out of the ordinary. It happens periodically. You let them out. And a couple of considerations, you know, the family’s wishes, of course, I tend to give that a good amount of weight, the family/victim.”

Doe’s family members — including his wife and daughter, according to Byerly — were angry when they found out that he had gone to jail. (Sometimes victims of domestic violence ask to revise their statements or say they don’t want the case prosecuted, the sheriff said later talking in general about domestic violence.) Doe’s family thought deputies were taking him to a mental health treatment facility, Byerly said.  

“I didn’t want them mad. They were the victims in it and I try to give the victims as much say so as possible,” Byerly said. “… Irregardless, it’s still a criminal offense, it’s still a domestic offense. I told them to let him out of jail and start his mental health (treatment). When he left, he knew he was going to have to come back once the warrants come back. A domestic you gotta go through a judge and bond out.”

Byerly also considered that Doe’s job could be in jeopardy if his arrest prevented him from going to work on Monday and he could start mental health services through his job then.

“We didn’t want him to lose his job. Losing his job, all it’s going to do is compound things,” Byerly said in a June 24 interview. “… So the option is: OK, we’ll let him out, when the warrants come out, I expect you to be back here. He comes back, he goes to the bonding process. If he gets bond, he bonds out and goes on back.”

When Doe returned for a bond hearing on June 5, Chief Magistrate Judge Jennifer Lewis denied bond because he posed "a significant threat or danger." His case moved to Superior Court and he received a $20,000 bond on June 10 that required him to immediately check into a residential treatment facility in Jacksonville, Fla. The sheriff’s office drove him there and he reimbursed them.

“If that’s part of his condition of being released, then it falls on the sheriff to take him wherever,” Byerly said.

At the bond hearing, Lewis was told that Doe had been home with the victims after he left jail, she said. However, Byerly said Doe stayed with his father, who picked him up when he got out of jail, and that Byerly told Doe to stay away from his family.

“For domestic violence, they don’t want you to get out, go home and do something stupid,” Byerly said on June 24. “If he had gone and done that, my butt would have been in a crack ‘cause that was my call. I decided to do that. If that happens, I made the decision. It’s up to me but he stayed with (his dad). Everything was fine, then we got time for the warrants, I called him said the warrants will be here, be here Wednesday morning and we’ll do the bond hearing Wednesday morning and, you know, good luck with it.”

But why did he come back three days later on Wednesday when the warrants were ready Sunday afternoon? 

“I was trying to make it convenient for everybody,” Byerly said in a July 3 interview. “I asked when he could come back. He asked if he could come in Wednesday. When I do this for somebody, I have them pick a day. I wanted to at least give him Monday to do what he needed to do.”

In an earlier interview on June 24, Byerly said he called Doe to have him return.

“When it was time for him to come back, I called him and he came back,” he said. “You know, hey, the warrants are here, you gotta come back in and go through the process. You get a bond, you may not get a bond. It’s entirely up to the judge. We have no say so in that. He did not get a bond. The judge opted to not give him a bond, which is certainly in her purview. She can do that however. We got him out, we come back, deal with it, whatever happens.”

Did Doe get special treatment? 

No, it’s a practice, Byerly replied. He calls people with “great regularity” to tell them that there’s a warrant out for their arrest.

“If I’m calling in the first place, I have some kind of inkling that they will comply,” Byerly said. “… If we think the guy’s going to get crazy or something like that, we’re not going to do that.”

Special treatment?

Doe was initially arrested for simple battery and terroristic threats. After his bond hearing, Doe was booked back into the jail on battery and two counts of terroristic threats. All three charges were designated as family violence. Battery is a misdemeanor. Terroristic threats is a felony charge for threatening to commit any act of violence, such as saying that you’ll kill someone.

On June 2, the same day as Doe’s arrest, a deputy arrested a woman for one of the same charges. She had two misdemeanors: battery designated as family violence and cruelty to children. She bonded out on June 5, the same day he returned for a bond hearing and was denied bond. She spent about three days in jail immediately after her arrest.

Another man was arrested five days after Doe on the exact same charges. He was denied bond and remained in jail for 55 days before being released on a judge’s order. The battery charge came from a fight with his girlfriend, so it was domestic violence too. Terroristic threats came from making death threats to a deputy on the way to jail.

Overall in the last three months, 44 people were booked into the Camden jail for either battery or terroristic threats. Many of these people had additional charges — usually other misdemeanors — but 18 had only battery and all but two of those 18 were marked as family violence. 

Twelve people were released on bond within 36 to 48 hours and two within 24 hours. Most of those arrests happened on a weekday, a few on a Sunday with a bond hearing on Monday morning. The average jail time was about three days, excluding those who spent more than 10 days in jail, which was an anomaly.

Only two other people in this 92-day span were arrested for battery — one for just battery, the other for battery and three other misdemeanors — and released in about the same time, 12.5 and 16 hours, as Doe.

Seven people were arrested for terroristic threats in the last three months. Often, they had other charges too. The shortest time in jail was 6.5 days, and that man had also been arrested for battery and terroristic threats plus two other charges. The average jail time for terroristic threats was 25 days. 

Talking to the sheriff

The Tribune & Georgian showed that arrest data to Sheriff Jim Proctor, pointing out that it looks like Doe got special treatment when you consider similar arrests. 

“Yeah, it does. And the report is showing me on the phone with him,” Proctor said, agreeing that the case does have an appearance of special treatment.

But it wasn’t, Proctor said, echoing many of Byerly’s points and saying his involvement ended when he hung up the phone that night. 

“In my opinion, I don’t think that (Byerly) did anything wrong,” Proctor said. “I don’t think that my office did anything wrong. Do we make mistakes? Absolutely. We all do. But from talking with Chuck, I don’t see where anything was done inappropriately.”

Proctor said he’s known Doe since he was a child because he grew up in Woodbine and “Woodbine’s not but 1,200 people and one traffic light.” He doesn’t know how Doe got his phone number and has only spoken to him once since then when they bumped into each other out in public.

“You’d be surprised how many people have my phone number,” Proctor said.

That night, Proctor noticed a voicemail and text on his phone from Doe asking him to call. He called back, realized Doe was in a standoff with deputies and told him to go outside and surrender.

“That was my whole involvement,” Proctor said.

Byerly and the deputies on duty handled the case from there. Proctor said he thinks Byerly didn’t know that one of the responding deputies had applied for a warrant, which is standard practice.

Sometimes people are allowed to seek help for mental health issues or substance abuse prior to warrants being issued, Proctor said, and people can come in themselves on a warrant, then go straight to a bond hearing later that day.

“It’s not an unusual occurrence for stuff like that to happen,” Proctor said. “It’s actually how we try to manage our jail population. We’ve got so many people sitting there that shouldn’t be there and there’s nothing we can do about it because they’re either under sentence, probation violation, which doesn’t carry bond, or something like that.”

Like Byerly said, it’s not uncommon for a deputy to let someone know that there’s a warrant out for his arrest and ask him to come turn himself in. 

“I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve picked up the phone and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got a warrant for you. Come turn yourself in,’” Proctor said. “If you know the person, why not do it that way instead of wasting our resources to go hunt for them? Just call them and tell them to come in. And we’ve been doing that for, gosh, 25 years that I know of, well, no, 30 years that I know of. It’s done everywhere that way. I say everywhere, jurisdictions surrounding us that I know of.”

So did Doe get special treatment? Would someone else have a chance to get a deal like that?

“Depending on the situation, absolutely,” Proctor said. “And I think had Chuck known about the warrant, he wouldn’t have been released to come back. He would have had to go though the bonding process.”

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