Early release of Fresno gang member raises questions

FRESNO, Calif.

Kenneth Johnson was booked into the jail on Monday and set free less than 24 hours later. Officials at the Fresno County Sheriff's Office say they were following policy when they set Johnson free because he met the criteria.

These jail releases are nothing new. But, Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer says even he was surprised when Kenneth Johnson got released. Usually it's the car thieves and burglars who are set free due to overcrowding. But Fresno County Sheriff's officials say they did nothing against their policy by letting Johnson go.

Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer says criminals like Kenneth Johnson are bold and should be locked up until they go through the court process. "In fact I've had people say that they had to read the story twice to ensure what they read was accurate. They could not believe that someone would be released early at least of this caliber."

On Monday Johnson was booked on carrying a concealed firearm, possessing a firearm in a public place, obstructing a police officer, showing a gun in the presence of a police officer and promoting gang activity.

Police say they confronted several men in Southwest Fresno Monday afternoon. That's when officers say Johnson ran from then and when he reached for a handgun that's when police shot twice. The suspect was not hit but dropped the gun and hit the ground. Police say the handgun was loaded and stolen from a burglary in Northwest Fresno.

Fresno County Assistant Sheriff Tom Gattie says based on the charges Johnson was booked on, he met the guidelines for early release. According to sheriff's officials, none of the charges are considered violent felony crimes. "We release based on the federal order, by law and policy. We don't get involved in the politics of it, the emotion of it, and the media hype associated with this. If we did that then we could never affect any releases and we'd be daily in violation of the federal order. That's not what we do."

Each day anywhere from 30 to 50 inmates walk out of the Fresno County jail early. The police chief says he doesn't blame the sheriff or her office for the releases, because the jail is not fully funded. But Dyer says the recent rise in violent and property crimes are indicators our local justice system is broken.

Chief Dyer said, "At some point we have to come together and find ways to maximize that bed space because not only do we have prolific auto thieves and burglars being released early, now we have a violent gang member with a stolen weapon being released as well."

Sheriff's officials say everyday they are making tough decisions about who should be let go. They rely solely on booking counts to make their decisions, without any reports or specific circumstances.

As of Thursday afternoon, no charges have been filed against Johnson.

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