The lead story in today's Post-Dispatch asks the question: if a man with a felony rap sheet is nabbed for breaking into a car and resisting arrest, why would the court system release him on his own recognizance and put him back on the streets? Especially considering that the man in question is currently on parole, and his criminal history includes shooting at an off-duty police officer?
It's a question that has stumped others, as well, including Daily RFT readers. When we reported on Tuesday that Michael Paynes was arrested for participating in recent downtown car cloutings, then released from jail per a judge's allowance, one commenter was prompted to suggest that we publish that judge's name "so that we know who to vote out of office."
Well, it appears that there was no judge involved at all, despite a news alert sent to media outlets over the weekend by the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department stating that there was. A spokesman for the police department admitted to Daily RFT this morning that it erred by stating a judge had allowed Paynes to be released on his own recognizance, when in fact it was a bond commissioner who signed off on the release.
In any case, Paynes has been re-arrested and is back in jail. But the chain of events has left everyone -- from judges, to prosecutors, to Police Chief Daniel Isom -- wondering how he slipped through the cracks to begin with.
Paynes and another man suspected of twenty recent car break-ins near Union Station were arrested over the weekend after being spotted in a stolen car; both men were charged for tampering with a motor vehicle and resisting arrest. (The car break-in charges are pending.) Paynes was released because he was riding shotgun in the attempted-getaway car -- which, unlike driving a stolen vehicle, is a misdemeanor, not a felony.
According to the P-D report, misdemeanor cases in St. Louis are typically reviewed by bond commissioners, who aren't actually judges. Under the current system, judges don't usually step in until a prosecutor makes a request. One judge went on the record to call that approach "reckless."
"I think on a bunch of different levels, the ball was dropped on this case," Judge Elizabeth B. Hogan told the P-D.
Paynes, 23, was convicted in 2005 of assault on a law enforcement officer, two counts of armed criminal action and tampering with a motor vehicle. He was released from prison after serving five-and-a-half years of a nine-year sentence and put on parole. That parole was revoked on Tuesday, making way for his second arrest in a week.
Judge Hogan told the P-D that the circuit attorney's office should have made a formal request for a judge to issue a bail setting for Paynes, given his criminal history. But a representative for the circuit attorney's office responded by explaining that the probable-cause statement filed over the weekend included that criminal history, which should have triggered a review by a judge. Both parties agreed that the system needs to be changed to allow judges to review more cases when setting bonds.
So, apparently, does Police Chief Dan Isom, who told the P-D: "[Paynes] should have never gotten back on the street."