Smith County DA: Sheriff's office slowdown results in early release of alleged felons

(TYLER MORNING TELEGRAPH) - Eight people arrested on felony charges -- from drug crimes to aggravated assault with a deadly weapon -- have been released from jail the past two years on personal recognizance bonds after the Smith County Sheriff's Office failed to present cases for a grand jury in the allotted 90-day period as set forth by law, according to records.

The Tyler Morning Telegraph obtained records through the Texas Open Records Act after requesting the information from the Smith County District Attorney's Office.

The records show the eight people, including 56-year-old Jerry Gene Allen, who allegedly shot three people during a disagreement earlier this year, were released between November 2013 and June 30 of this year.

The records further show that an additional 13 people could have been released, but they were held on additional charges or federal detainers.

A personal recognizance bond is a signed document in which the defendant promises to appear for all future court dates in a case. The defendant does not have to pay bond money.

Smith County District Attorney Matt Bingham, who has served the county as a prosecutor for 17 years, said this is the first time he or his office has seen this issue, and he is concerned about potentially violent criminals being released onto the streets of East Texas due to cases that are not filed in a timely manner.

"The only agency we are having a problem with in this area is the Smith County Sheriff's Office. That only started in January 2013," Bingham said.

However, Sheriff Larry Smith said the problem is being addressed, and he would hope for better communication with the DA's office and an ease on the current guidelines required by the DA on cases.

"I have been in law enforcement for 37 years, and many of those in criminal investigations, so I know what it takes to get a case indicted," Smith said. "However, I am not going to say that the people you have brought up were not on this department and ultimately me."

Bingham explained that when a person is arrested, under state law there is a 90-day period when a case must be presented to a grand jury, and the prosecutor must be present at that time to take the case to trial if asked to do so by a judge.

If a case is not presented to a grand jury, the person's attorney can ask for a personal recognizance bond hearing, and if there are no other reasons the person should be held, the court has no choice but to grant the bond and set the person free from jail.

Bingham further explained the release does not mean the case is over, and most of the time the person is rearrested and the case finally makes it through the system.

Smith said staffing issues might have contributed to the problem, but added that he has implemented new policies to keep cases in line with the allotted time period to present them to a grand jury.

Tyler Police Chief Gary Swindle said he has had meetings with Bingham and Smith about what is required to submit a case and said due to new technologies the amount of items required can be staggering.

However, Swindle said his office is filing on-site arrest cases within eight days and cases requiring a detective to obtain a warrant well before the 90 day period.

"There is a ton of stuff they want, but we have a civilian employee that works all of that for us and does an awesome job. We typically get most of our patrol cases to the DA in eight days.


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