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57 pretrial detainees released after Superior Court services cut due to COVID-19
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57 pretrial detainees released after Superior Court services cut due to COVID-19

More than 50 pretrial detainees in Santa Barbara County Jail were recently released following an order that suspended most court hearings, including bail reductions, to curb the spread of COVID-19. 

Three inmates, however, including one from Santa Maria, were barred from release after a deputy district attorney argued they are considered flight or public safety risks. 

While court officials would not disclose details about the 57 inmates released, documents show the agreement was reached between the District Attorney's Office and defense attorneys, whose clients' bail hearings were canceled following a Superior Court order closing most county courtrooms. 

Public Defender's Office urges release of jail inmates most at risk for COVID-19

Superior Court Presiding Judge Michael Carrozzo on March 16 issued an order to continue most court matters until after April 3 and closed all courtrooms except for one each at the Santa Maria and Santa Barbara courthouses for criminal arraignments. 

Additionally, a Santa Maria juvenile courtroom will remain open, according to the order. 

The number of inmates released was included in the district attorney's response to a March 30 petition filed by the public defender challenging the barring of bail hearings.

The petition, which was filed with the Second Appellate District Court, was submitted on behalf of inmates Sean Rodriguez, Isael Elenas and Christopher Huntfox, who argued their due process rights were violated after the District Attorney's Office wouldn't agree to their release.  

One of the inmates, Isael Elenas, 32, is an alleged active Santa Maria West Park gang member previously convicted of a robbery after he was found to be in possession of drugs and a loaded .25-caliber handgun during a traffic stop conducted by a sheriff's deputy in August 2018. 

Elenas was previously released on bail but was remanded after allegedly violating the terms of his release, according to court documents.

County Public Defender challenges policy barring bail hearings during pandemic

Huntfox is accused of assault with a deadly weapon with great bodily injury stemming from a stabbing in Santa Barbara in 2019. Rodriguez is accused of resisting arrest and prowling in Goleta in March while on parole for felony vandalism and criminal threats. 

Deputy District Attorney Marguerite Clipper Charles argued the three pose safety and flight risks in her April 2 response, in which she asked the judge to deny the petition. 

Charles argued that the three defendants weren't denied due process because their bail amounts were already considered. 

The judge denied release for the three inmates April 6. 

Coronavirus Series: Local impact and reaction to COVID-19 on the Central Coast

We are working hard to get answers about the impact and reaction to the coronavirus in Santa Barbara County, this is a collection of those stories. Do you have a question about coronavirus in Santa Barbara County? The Santa Maria Times news staff will work to answer your questions. Post them to our Facebook page, or email MCooley@SantaMariaTimes.com.  You can support the work of local journalists working hard in your hometown by signing up for a News+ Membership online

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