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KLTV 7 Investigates: Missed deadlines put inmates charged with violent crimes back on the streets

Jail cell bars. (Photo Source: KLTV Staff) Jail cell bars. (Photo Source: KLTV Staff)
SMITH COUNTY, TX (KLTV) - In June, three Smith County inmates charged with violent crimes were released from jail, simply because it's the law. When someone is arrested, charged with a crime and sent to jail, a grand jury must indict the accused person within 90 days or they can be released from jail. 

An open records request revealed that in the last 18 months, 20 cases investigated by the Smith County Sheriff's Office didn't make the 90 day deadline. Two cases barely scraped by, but the district attorney's office says they still didn't have what they needed to present the case to a grand jury.

"We rely on the investigative agency --whether it's the police department or the sheriff's office-- to present that case in 90 days," says Matt Bingham, the Smith County District Attorney.

"If we're getting close to the 90 day deadline and law enforcement brings that case in on the 86th day or the 87th day and says, 'Well, here ya go,' if that's on a day, like a Friday, we don't have a grand jury until the next Thursday.  We still can't get that case in there," explains Bingham.

Last month, Jerry Allen, Eduardo Garcia and Terrance Washington were all released because their cases lacked indictments.

Allen is charged with three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon after shooting at three people around a bonfire. Garcia was arrested after allegedly burglarizing a home in Noonday. Washington is charged with assaulting a public servant. It was one of the sheriff's own deputies that Washington allegedly assaulted, but the sheriff's office didn't finish investigating the case before the 90 day deadline.

"If we thought they were a danger and they were repeat offenders, they'd be back in jail," says Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith.

Smith says whether or not a person is in jail doesn't change the prosecution of their case. Smith says over the past month he has imposed new deadlines for detectives to make sure the cases are investigated in a timely manner. They now have 45 days to hand felony cases over to the district attorney's office and 30 days to file any misdemeanor cases.

"We would like to have more detectives over here, but I'm not going to use that as a crutch or an excuse," says Smith. "We have had a lot of cases back-to-back here recently that has taken a lot of resources."

Smith says various factors can be attributed to detectives taking longer to investigate cases. He says sometimes witnesses are difficult to locate or uncooperative and that can slow the investigative process down.

"I'm not making any excuses. I personally take 100 percent responsibility for anything that needs to be done. We've made some great improvements but I'll tell you and I'll tell the citizens of this county... this sheriff's office has a ways to go. It's not as effective and efficient as I'd like to see it, so we're going to have hiccups along the way, but again I shoulder 100 percent of that responsibility," says Smith.

"I know these guys have so much to do - all law enforcement agencies do-- but that 90-day deadline is important," adds Bingham. While more than a dozen defendants were eligible for release, eight inmates were actually released in the last year and a half. Their charges ranged from aggravated assault with a deadly weapon to assault on a public servant, burglary and various drug charges. Bingham explains that sometimes a defendant's attorney will advise them to remain in jail so they can continue getting credit toward a possible future sentence.

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