Franklin County Sheriff A.J. Smith has criticized a circuit judge for setting an unusually low $2 bond last month for a man arrested for armed burglary.
At a first appearance by video on June 8, a day after he was arrested on a felony charge of armed burglary and a misdemeanor charge of petit theft, John Dean, listed in court records as being homeless in Eastpoint, was handed a $1 bond on each charge by Circuit Judge Martin Fitzpatrick.
Dean, however, remained in jail because the judge revoked his pre-trial release on a pending misdemeanor charge of possession of drug paraphernalia. After being busted at an alleged drug house in Eastpoint on May 2, Dean was out on a $1,000 bond granted him by County Judge Gordon Shuler.
Senior Circuit Judge Stewart Parsons resolved the drug paraphernalia case July 11. After the defendant pleaded no contest, the judge assessed Dean $475 in fines and fees and granted him 35 days for jail time served
Parsons, however, had no jurisdiction in the pending armed burglary case, now set to be heard by Circuit Judge Charles Dodson. Once the misdemeanor drug paraphernalia charge was resolved, Dean posted the $2 bond and was released, and that is what has angered the sheriff.
“This is a serious crime and was treated as such a minor incident by the judge. The system is broken,” said Smith, noting that he has written to 2nd Circuit Chief Judge Jonathan Sjostrom regarding the matter.
”How can I protect and keep our community safe, when these are the repercussions of crime?” he said. “This was a crime in daylight on our senior citizens. Set a bond that is adequate for the charge.”
According to the probable cause affidavit, Dean was identified on June 7 by Tom Ball, an elderly Eastpoint resident, as being the man, together with Ashton Shiver, who had burglarized his North Bayshore Drive home earlier that day. Both men had fled after being chased by Ball, and inside a book bag left on the bedroom floor officers found a knife, which led to the armed burglary charge.
State Attorney Jack Campbell said he had spoken with Andy Rogers, the assistant state attorney who handled the first arraignment, which took place on a weekend. Beyond that, he offered little comment, noting that a fuller understanding could be obtained by reviewing the judge’s recorded comments from the hearing.
At that hearing, the video shows Fitzpatrick decided that the presence of a knife in the book bag did not suffice as probable cause for an armed burglary charge against Shiver.
However, Annie Ball had told law enforcement that when she came upon the burglars, one of them told her the man, later identified as Dean, had a gun. Fitzpatrick determined that this was probable cause for the armed burglary charge against Dean.
Knowing that both men would be held without bond until their earlier charges were resolved, Fitzpatrick rejected the recommendation by Assistant Public Defender Katherine Lane that they be released on their own recognizance, but did assign them the $1 bond on each charge. He noted to Shiver that while he remained in jail, he would be accruing jail time to be deducted from any eventual sentence.
Dean’s court-appointed conflict counsel, Amanda Gatlin Heller, out of Panama City, also declined comment. “I don’t generally comment on pending cases,” she wrote in an email.
In response to an email inquiry sent to Fitzpatrick’s legal assistant, Grant Slayden, trial court administrator for the 2nd Judicial Circuit, wrote that the Code of Judicial Conduct, prohibits a judge, while a proceeding is pending, to “make any public comment that might reasonably be expected to affect its outcome or impair its fairness.”
Slayden said that he too, as court staff, could not discuss any pending proceeding.
“I can say the following,” he wrote. “All parties are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. Under the U.S. Constitution, parties are entitled to affordable bail. Holding a defendant without bail is only allowed if the court is reasonably certain the defendant will not appear in court as required, and to maintain the safety of the community. The law makes this a high bar.
“This Franklin County felony case is not resolved. This case is still pending before a circuit judge,” Slayden wrote. “As in all unresolved criminal cases, the prosecutor, representing the State of Florida, and the defense attorney always have an opportunity to be heard. Concerns about this case may be addressed on the record in open court by either of these parties.”