YAKIMA,WA- Yakima County persecutors changed operations due to the COVID-19 outbreak in the Yakima County Jail, Department of Corrections and Juvenile Center Tuesday.
During the national crisis; local law enforcement and justice programs are changing how they will operate with inmates. Currently, criminal cases in both Yakima County Superior Court as well as Yakima County District Court have been essentially postponed through the month of April. There will be no jury trials during that time. Most hearings are being reset into May or later.
Essential hearings that are still proceeding are preliminary appearances, arraignments and bail motions. Essentially, all other matters must be individually noted up to be heard. There are no Omnibus, Readiness or Triage Hearings in Superior Court in April per order of the court. The therapeutic courts have shut down as well.
Yakima County Prosecutor, Joseph Brusic has instructed all felony prosecutors to continue to charge out of custody referrals but not send summons out for a court date until mid-May.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues the Yakima Justice System will extend trial dates for Superior Court, and District Court.
Here is the full statement from County Prosecutor Brusic to all law enforcement agencies in Yakima County about what to do for the justice system at this time:
"Currently, defense interviews of victims, witnesses and law enforcement officers have been curtailed indefinitely. We are working with the defense on setting telephonic interviews but many counsel are wanting to wait to interview eventually that victim or witness in person. We are currently, as of this morning, not having any out of custody pleas during this next month either. However, we will have in custody pleas that will get someone out of custody or will send a defendant to Washington State DOC. Of course, that is on a case by case basis as noted up by the attorneys. I have encouraged all criminal prosecutors to take a fresh look at their cases and to make a possible new offer to resolve them, especially if it allows someone to get out of the Yakima County jail with a plea. Same goes for District Court. Once again, this is on a case by case basis with both defense counsel and prosecutors working their cases diligently and with an eye towards possible resolution during this most difficult time. This is all in response to the current pandemic.
I am reaching out to each and every one of you for your assistance and understanding concerning this crisis and how it relates to our criminal justice system in Yakima County. I am respectfully asking that each one of you talk with your staff and officers in your respective departments to lessen the burdens on the system as it concerns the jail, juvenile detention and the courts. We are all deemed essential under the governor’s Proclamation. However, we must take all the information we currently have and come to the conclusion that change is necessary as it relates to the system. So, I am asking that current arrest determinations and requests to book an individual be re-evaluated and where, if possible, a person is not placed into custody.
The normal arrests that your officers have been making should be curtailed unless the alleged offense is a serious and violent offense that creates a true threat to public safety."
Ed Campbell, director of the Yakima County Department of Corrections, sent out a modified booking criteria previously that you all received. Please utilize that information. Additionally, the CDC has listed the following as “high risk”:
- Adults older that 65+
- Heart Disease
- Lung Disease
- HIV – Immune Suppressant medications
Brusic continues to state:
"We have a number of these individuals in our jail. We are actively determining their status and working with defense counsel to assess whether they should remain in custody or not.
Let me be clear on this point - we want to continue to be aggressive towards crime in Yakima County and we shall never undermine the public trust in our common pursuit and goal of public safety. However, with that being said, we must use common sense and discretion during this crisis. Right now, this covers and is true for the month of April.
The generalized and overall policy involving booking criteria should now be, for both DOC and Juvenile Detention, the following until further notice:
- Serious/violent crime
- Clear threats to public safety
- Domestic violence
This is the goal. There will be exceptions. Mandatory DUIs must be arrested. Bench and arrest warrants in the system need to be enforced. However, the Court will consider release. Do not ignore a court order.
As of March 31st there are 706 inmates in the Yakima County Jail. Of those, 403 are local residents. This is down from 920 earlier this month. There is solid progress, with all of your assistance, to protect the public as well as not book and/or release those suspects and defendants that should be. I also want to make clear that we must reduce our current population out at Juvenile. If a juvenile does not fit into one of those three categories, he or she should not be booked."
The Prosecutor's Office stated that if any law enforcement agency needs clarification they can reach out to Yakima County Judge Ruth Reukauf.