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'The system is broken': Denver mayor says court issues need to be addressed immediately

Previous Denver7 Investigation found a high number of serious drug offenders received PR bonds
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Posted at 9:00 PM, Apr 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-08 00:14:21-04

DENVER — Data analyzed by Denver7 Investigates shows that the city’s most serious drug offenders are facing minimal accountability in court, a problem Denver’s mayor says needs to be addressed immediately.

“We have a problem and we need to find a way to fix it,” Mayor Michael Hancock said. “We’ve got to start holding people accountable.”

Hancock spoke to Denver7 Investigates following a Denver7 investigation in February that showed, among other issues, 69% of the 1,298 suspects arrested on felony drug charges received a personal recognizance (PR) bond, meaning they did not have to post any money to bond out of jail. Of those who received a PR bond, 45 percent percent failed to show up for a future court appearance.

Denver7 also conducted undercover camera investigations at Union Station in the heart of downtown, which showed rampant drug use in the area.

“The system is broken,” Hancock said. “We’ve got to look at the PR bond situation. It’s an unacceptable situation.”

Erasmo Fernandez did not receive a PR bond. After being arrested with a loaded firearm and 20,000 fentanyl pills by undercover police, Fernandez received a $10,000 bond, meaning he had to pay $1,000 to get out of jail. Yet, he still did not show up for his next hearing.

Hancock vows to fix the problem and isn’t interested in playing politics.

“There’s no room to play games, there’s no room to play politics,” he said.

Denver District Attorney Beth McCann has denied repeated interview requests from Denver7 on the topic, but Mitch Morrissey, who previously held McCann’s seat, said she is obligated to address the issue.

“A district attorney, they are part of a system and when they see the system is out of whack, they have an obligation to try and straighten things out,” Morrissey said. “There are far too many of these PR bonds being given to serious drug dealers. It’s ridiculous and it’s dangerous to our community.”

In Harris County in Houston, District Attorney Kim Ogg was faced with similar issues and commissioned a $10,000 report to study the impacts of bail reform.

Harris County First Assistant Chief of Courts David Mitcham said he saw multiple parallels between what is happening in Denver and what’s been going on in his area.

“We wanted the truth to get out about what was going on in reference to bail, crime and public safety,” Mitcham said.

Mitcham directed the study in Houston and said Ogg was in favor of bail reform, as McCann is, until she saw crime significantly increase in Houston.

“What we found is that re-offending by criminal defendants who’ve been released on bail is up substantially,” Mitcham said.

The study also found an increase of failures to appear by criminal defendants and an increase in violent offenses committed by defendants free on bail. Mitcham said he would recommend a similar study in Denver.

“You have to get a grip on the problem to understand the problem,” he said.

Morrissey agrees.

“Based on the statistics you brought forward, based on the crime rate in the city, based on the number of people who have died, you can’t wait a week,” he said. “This policy needs to be changed now.”

Denver7 Investigates approached McCann at the Colorado Capitol to ask if she would consider a similar study. She declined to speak, but said in passing that she would be in favor of a study, but doesn’t have the resources to do it.

McCann’s annual budget is more than $27 million. However, she said her office needs more attorneys, investigators and resources to prosecute crime. Ranking city sources tell Denver7 Investigates that studying this issue has not been a priority for the DA.