BOSTON — For weeks, Boston 25 News has been reporting on the debate surrounding the release of inmates and defendants amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
25 Investigates spoke with a Dorchester family that says they found themselves unexpectedly in the middle of that debate. They say their story reveals the consequences of this debate go beyond the crime stats.
"Well, at the time I was trying to protect my wife,” said Clemon Howell, a 86 year old resident of Dorchester as he recounted what unfolded inside his home on March 21st.
Howell says it began when he heard his wife's cries for help. A man, allegedly running from police, busted into their Dorchester home looking for a place to hide.
"And I tussled with him, and I tussled with him, and got him down to the floor,” said Clemon.
Howell says he held the intruder, until Boston Police arrived.
According to police report, the suspect, Marvens Bathalier, was known to be homeless and was running from officers after a physical altercation with a woman. After the struggle in his apartment, Howell went to the hospital. But, because of the coronavirus outbreak, his wife couldn’t go with him.
Dorothy Howell was home when the family says Bathalier was back on their front lawn collecting his personal belongings. It was only hours after police arrested him.
"He was released before a police report was finished,” said their son Darrin Howell. “And, he was released with no notification to my parents.”
Darrin showed 25 Investigates an email he sent March 30th to the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office and many other city officials, asking them why this suspect was released so soon after his arrest and why the family wasn’t notified. He says he’s yet to receive a response.
“We can’t just release people to the street,” said Darrin.
“I was very upset,” said Clemon. “I don’t feel safe.”
25 Investigates has learned that, on the afternoon of the arrest, Bathalier was seen by a bail commissioner at Dorchester District Court and was charged with trespass and assault and battery on a person age 60 or older or disabled.
The record shows Bethalier was released on personal recognizance after paying a $40 fee.
Since the coronavirus crisis began, there has been a push to release more defendants and inmates to reduce spread of infection in jails.
The state's Supreme Judicial Court ruled in April that people in jail awaiting trial in Massachusetts should be released unless prosecutors can prove they pose an 'an unreasonable danger’ to the community or if they are a flight risk.
But critics say the SJC did not issue guidance on what should happen to people once they’re out.
Darrin says he understands the decision in many cases, but the conversation can’t end there.
“There needs to be a community that receives them," said Darrin. "There needs to be things in place to welcome them home so that they’re prepared to be productive members of society.”
25 Investigates asked Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins about this case. Her office said they did try to contact the family two days after Bathalier was released. The family disputes that.
Her spokesperson sent 25 Investigates a statement saying, in part:
“The criminal justice system, as is evident in this case, is imperfect especially while it confronts unprecedented challenges. In this time, the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office continues to adjust and evolve to ensure that our communities stay safe.”
“When you release in people to the community, we have to have a gatekeeper,” said community activist Darrell Jones. “That is the bottom line. And that gatekeeper, we should be meeting them at the door. We should be meeting with them and working with them to say, ‘Where will you be going? Where will you be living, what finances do you have?’"
It’s an experience Jones knows firsthand. Jones spent 32 years in jail for a 1985 murder, until a jury exonerated him last June.
Jones echoes the concerns about suddenly freeing inmates and defendants without a plan for them.
“When we stigmatize everybody in that environment, that could have happened to me, you know, I was doing natural life, I was there to die,” said Jones.
"Because the system, as far as I’m concerned, doesn’t protect our senior citizens,” said Clemon. “We paid our dues so we should be protected.”
25 Investigates has learned police have since arrested Bathalier, again.
On May 4th, he was arraigned for public intoxication and assault and battery on a police officer. The District Attorney’s Office asked for a $1,000 bail. The judge imposed a $250 bail and Bathelier is out again.
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