Gates Cites Court Order to Explain Inmate Releases

Times Staff Writer

Sheriff Brad Gates released six men in March--instead of jailing them--to comply with a federal court order limiting the County Jail's inmate population, according to documents filed Friday in Orange County Superior Court.

Gates' lawyer filed the documents in response to Municipal Judge Gary P. Ryan's threat to hold the sheriff in contempt for failing to book the six men into custody. Ryan, the presiding judge of Central Municipal Court, had ordered Gates to explain why he should not be cited for contempt and had scheduled a hearing on the issue Monday.

In the court documents, Gates' attorney, Deputy County Counsel Edward N. Duran, argued that the sheriff has implemented several programs, including issuing citations to those who agree to report to court on a later date, in order to comply with a federal court order to keep down the inmate population at the county's crowded main jail in Santa Ana.

"If he did not use the cite and release program among others, he would be in direct violation of the federal court mandate," Duran wrote.

Duran added that completion of a new intake/release center at the main jail on Flower Street will provide an additional 384 beds for males and females this summer. By fall, he said, another 192 beds will be added at the facility.

On Gates' behalf, Duran wrote that earlier Ryan had conceded that the federal court order "would be an excuse for what the sheriff is doing" because federal court jurisdiction supersedes that of the Municipal and Superior courts.

And, Duran added, "as more facilities become available, such as the intake/release center, the near-term jail in Anaheim . . . the sheriff will not have to depend upon programs such as the citation and release of those arrested on warrants."

"At the first possible moment," Duran continued, "the sheriff intends to discontinue such programs."

According to reports filed by Duran Friday, the main jail population ranged between 1,225 and 1,286 on the five days in March that are involved in the contempt dispute. The maximum inmate population permitted by the federal court during that period was 1,296.

However, on those days as many as 101 additional inmates were temporarily located in the jail's first floor admissions area. Those inmates must be assigned permanent housing within 24 hours, Duran said. U.S. District Judge William P. Gray in Los Angeles, who has limited the jail's inmate population as a result of inmates' civil rights lawsuits, excluded first-floor inmates from the 1,296-inmate limit.

"Every week some 350 to 450 citations and releases are issued" to persons on arrest warrants and to another 300 persons arrested without warrants, Duran said.

"One can see that there has been no place in the present jail system for an additional 650 to 750 inmates each week," Duran said.

Although the county's branch jails were not always full during that period, they cannot accept many of the prisoners being held on serious offenses and must keep beds available for inmates who are sentenced to serve their jail sentences on weekends.

Gates also submitted to Ryan the classification scheme used to determine where inmates are housed, but the information was sealed by the court at the sheriff's request to avoid security problems, Duran said.

Widespread, detailed knowledge of the classification system would enable inmates to feign the traits needed to gain access to areas of the jail where they should not be permitted, Duran said.

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