The San Antonio Police Officers Association said today that District Attorney Joe Gonzalez' new policy of refusing to prosecute the homeless or the mentally ill who are arrested on criminal trespass charges amounts to a free pass for offenders, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
"The District Attorney's order effectively gives a homeless person, or person who claims to be homeless, a free pass to infringe on the rights of a business owner or non-residential property owner," SAPOA President Detective Mike Helle said. "This is a total abdication of a D.A.'s responsibility, which is to hold the guilty accountable, protect the innocent, and preserve the dignity of victims and their families."
Gonzales said last night his office will 'reject' criminal trespass charges in the case of mentally ill and homeless arestees if the arrest is made in a non-residential place, the only charge the person is facing is criminal trespass, the defendant 'appears to be homeless,' and the defendant does not have any violent criminal history and is not currently on probation.
Sheriff Javier Salazar says the county jail should not be a 'homeless shelter,' pointing out that he has probably fifty inmates in the jail right now who are eligible for release under this new policy.
"Even conservatively speaking, even 35 to 40 of those 50 qualify, that is a significant nubmer of folks who could be getting help, not languishing in a jail cell somewhere," he said. He said Bexar County taxpayers spend hundreds of thousands or dollars a year jailing homeless and mentally ill people, who are in the jail only because they can't afford the small amount needed for bond on misdemeanor charges.
Salazar says his deputies are on board with the policy and he asked San Antonio Police to give it a chance.
"They understand that, overall, the District Attorney is trying to help us make better use of our manpower, make better use of our resources, and do the right thing."
Gonzalez stressed he is not dictating that homeless and mentally ill individuals should not be arrested by the police, but he says they will not be prosecuted or charged. He suggested they could be shipped to the Haven for Hope or other homeless shelter, and the mentally ill could be referred for medical treatment.
The new policy stems from the death in the jail last week of a 64 year old man who was in jail on a criminal trespass charge, who had been in the jail for two weeks and couldn't come up with the $50 he needed as surety on his bond.