I-TEAM: Exposing criminals simply walking out of court

CLEVELAND -- The FOX 8 I-TEAM has uncovered what kinds of criminal suspects are being allowed to simply walk out of the justice center with a promise to come back.

There's new fallout from overcrowding, inmate deaths, and other problems in the Cuyahoga County Jail. This week Cleveland Municipal Court Judge Michael Nelson made headlines. He announced he would not send any more people to the county jail except in the most serious cases in light of the inmate deaths.

So we investigated what that means on your streets. The I-TEAM investigated two days of court cases before Judge Nelson. We looked at the charges and whether the suspects were allowed to simply walk out of the Justice Center, or did they have to put up money for bond before leaving, or did they get ordered held in jail?

For those released on personal bond, a promise to come back to court, we found seven facing charges for domestic violence, two of them labelled high-risk. We also found three facing gun charges released the same way, two facing felony drug cases, and more.

We went back to Judge Nelson and asked, what about public safety?

He answered, "Here's the issue. This ‘is’ about public safety."

He sees the jail as dangerously overcrowded and unsafe for inmates.

Judge Nelson added, "This is not the best response, but we've been put in this position because of the failure of our government to make sure all citizens, those who are accused of a crime and those in the public, are protected."

And, how is the public reacting?

One woman told us, "Find another place for ‘em to go, rather than let ‘em out on the street."

And a former inmate we met told us, "It’s bad, but they gotta do something about the system."

To be clear, the suspects in these cases are just beginning to move through the system on new charges. They have not been convicted on the new cases.

But while you may worry about more crime, Judge Nelson hopes the impact comes on the inside of the jail.

He said, "So this is a wake-up call. And hopefully, they will address it by getting things in order."

The judge could not say how long he might continue with his policy of trying to send less people to jail.

Continuing coverage, here.

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