Crimes Petty, but Not His Warrant Bill

TIMES STAFF WRITER

When San Diego police officers caught up with 23-year-old Antonio Anthony Simpson, they were planning to give him a routine misdemeanor citation on suspicion of breaking into a change box at a downtown parking lot.

But, after running a records check on the transient Monday morning, police wasted no time in taking him to County Jail.

The police computer worked for more than an hour and a half churning out information showing that Simpson was wanted on 45 outstanding misdemeanor warrants for failing to appear in court--a bail bill that totaled $182,990, police spokesman Dave Cohen said.

Simpson's prior warrants, all issued within the past couple of years, included citations for petty theft, public drunkenness, possession of narcotics paraphernalia and a slew of other misdemeanors, police spokesman Bill Robinson said.

Simpson had been cited on suspicion of a similar petty theft just last week, Robinson said.

Rather than being carted off to jail, people suspected of misdemeanors are usually cited, much as if they had been stopped for speeding. They must sign a ticket promising to appear in court.

But police and the city attorney's office say there is another reason Simpson has been able to elude jail.

"Overcrowding is the real reason Simpson is not in jail," Robinson said. "It has to be a felony to be booked into the County Jail."

The city attorney's office, which prosecutes misdemeanors, said cases involving people with a backlog of failure-to-appear warrants are not out of the ordinary. Simpson's number was unusually high, however.

Meagan Beale, a senior screening and arraignment deputy for the city attorney's office, estimated that only 25% of the people scheduled to appear in court for misdemeanors ever do. When a person fails to appear, an arrest warrant is issued.

"In practical matters, nothing will happen after (they don't show up in court), because the officers are so busy with felonies," Beale said. "Even if they did arrest you, they wouldn't have anywhere to keep you anyway."

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