News Blog

COVID-19 and Court

What a busy week and half it has been.
Many of my friends have reached out and asked “How are you passing time with no court?”
As much as I would love to answer about how I have been catching up on TV and movies and doing all sorts of wonderful cooking, I have been working with other wonderful attorneys and activists to try to advocate for some of the most vulnerable people in our community: the folks that are going to and are in Mecklenburg County Jail.
Jails and Prisons are places where disease and infections spread like no other.
The people that are in charge and control the levers of decision making in Charlotte are not doing enough to protect people, all people. We are not only talking about people getting arrested or people that spend time in jail. We are talking about all the people that they come into contact with, and all the people those people come into contact with. In short, THE WHOLE COMMUNITY.

What is being done?

Not much. The DA’s office (Elected DA Spencer Merriweather calls the shots) is agreeing to release some people, but on a case by case basis. It isn’t enough people and it is time intensive. DA Merriweather could ask CMPD and other agencies to STOP arresting people on low level charges. If he has, it isnt working because we are still averaging 40-50 arrests a day. Most are misdemeanors. Unacceptable. Each person that goes through arrest processing at jail is another person that could be infected, not know it, and bring COVID-19 into the jail.

The judges (Chief Superior Court Judge W. R. Bell and Chief District Court Judge E. T. Trosch) are discussing a lot of things it sounds like, but not ordering too much. What could they do? If they wanted, they could release everyone from Mecklenburg County Jail that is only being held on Misdemeanors (around 100 people). They could release people on low level felonies, things like possession of cocaine and breaking or entering. These measures would substantially reduce the jail population and hopefully reduce the risk of an outbreak. They could order a moratorium on service of all Orders For Arrest for missed court dates, Warrants for Arrest for all Misdemeanors and low level felonies.

The Sheriff (Garry McFadden) could be doing more to protect those people in jail. He likes to call them residents. I appreciate the efforts to humanize these people. However, it is still jail and it is still punishing and depriving people who are too poor to buy their freedom. I have had multiple clients in jail tell me that nobody is taking their temperature or monitoring them. There are numerous reports of pods in the jail running out of hand soap, toilet paper, and sanitary napkins.

The police. They are doing the LEAST and could be doing the MOST. Chief Kerr Putney (Please retire already!) hasn’t been seen. His officers are conducting business as usual, which means arresting largely black and brown people for minor allegations, putting everyone at risk during a pandemic. Simply put, CMPD is a total disaster and if people start dying who are in jail or have been in jail, they deserve the largest slice of blame.

The good news is, if you are reading this, you have power! Reach out to these entities and demand that they do more. Use your voice. Phone. Email. Social Media. They seem to only be willing to do the right thing if they are forced into it. So, force them into it.

Decarcerate Mecklenburg!