More than 400 suspected criminals have walked free from the Spokane County Jail this year simply because police and prosecutors failed to file crucial paperwork within three days of the arrests.
The 72-hour filing deadline is a legal requirement intended to limit the amount of time authorities are able to detain individuals without formally charging them with a crime.
But growing caseloads have made complying with the deadline increasingly difficult, authorities said this week, noting that greatest priority is given to making sure all necessary reports and paperwork get filed in violent and other serious cases.
“We are fast approaching a real crisis,” Jail Commander Jerry Brady said. “It’s not a particular fault of law enforcement, the prosecutor’s office or the judicial system. It’s just a matter of the fact we are getting an awful lot of criminals coming through the system.”
During the first four months of this year alone, 408 suspects booked into the county jail have been let go because authorities missed the deadline for getting the necessary paperwork filed.
That number includes 30-year-old Charles Robert Kyle who was released last week despite warnings from Spokane County Sheriff’s detectives that Kyle told an officer he could have killed the victims of one of the burglaries for which he was charged.
Just days later, Spokane Valley Police officers arrested Kyle for the fourth time in three weeks, this time after two girls said he molested them.
Detectives and prosecutors both said Wednesday that they do everything they can to keep the worst offenders off the street. But each release is a roll of the dice, sheriff’s Sgt. Steve Barbieri said.
The Kyle case “is a perfect example of what can occur,” Barbieri said. “A lot of times, they let him out and nothing happens. But this one bit us, and bit us hard.”
Deputy Spokane County Prosecutor Bob Sargent said his office is swamped with so many cases from the city, county and Spokane Valley that he physically can’t get to them all.
“I can say I feel the frustration for the police when someone who has multiple files gets out,” Sargent said. “When you are trying to corral a hundred snakes, some of them get through.”
Prosecutor Steve Tucker did not return a phone message seeking comment Wednesday. But he approached the Spokane County Commission on Tuesday seeking more money to hire 11 more prosecutors to keep up with the caseload that has increased by 60 percent in the past two years.
Spokane Police fraud Detective Stacey Carr said most suspects in property crime cases are let out by judges or are released because paperwork isn’t filed with the jail in time.
“A lot of the bad guys get out of jail thinking, I’m off scot-free. No they’re not,” Carr said, explaining that authorities can file formal charges later, when they have enough time to finish the paperwork. “It catches up with them eventually.”
But Carr said “eventually” might mean months or even a couple years for fraud suspects, who often have drug problems.
“That’s not a very good message to send to a meth addict,” Carr said. “It’s like for a child, if you tell them you’re not going to get disciplined for another six months, that’s not going to stop them from breaking the rules.”
Carr said she has stopped rushing to finish the probable cause documents on all but the most important fraud cases. Working to solve other fraud is a bigger priority for her since suspects recently jailed likely will be released quickly no matter when she turns information in to prosecutors, she said.
Sargent said he has worked with Carr, Barbieri and other detectives to target repeat offenders, or those who make it their career to steal from others.
“I can safely say 70 repeat offenders have been rushed through with the maximum amount of charges with the minimum amount of time,” Sargent said. “But when you do that, something else has to be set aside.”
Spokane Police Sgt. Joe Peterson said the releases have nothing to do with those who are facing rape, serious assault or homicide cases.
Barbieri agreed but criticized state laws that have cut the sentences in half of those criminals committing most of the property crimes.
“Most property crimes are financing the dope world, and drugs are catalysts to a lot of our major crimes,” he said. “There’s such a connection.”