Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
Stephen Goldman Sr. has been in the custody of the county jail for months after a judge found he was too dangerous to release as he awaits trial on allegations that he burned the car and got rid of the guns used in a double homicide.
According to his attorney, Goldman smokes, and suffers from asthma and early-stage emphysema, all of which mean he is considered vulnerable to COVID-19, which county officials say has made its way into the Metropolitan Detention Center.
Attorney Mark Ramsey on Wednesday unsuccessfully asked a Bernalillo County judge to consider releasing the 43-year-old in light of the outbreak. MDC officials said this week that one inmate has tested positive.
“The argument, Mr. Ramsey, that you’re making seems to be that I should ignore public safety in lieu of the safety of your client in that he may be potentially exposed to COVID-19 while he’s at MDC. I’m not going to ignore public safety,” said state District Judge Cindy Leos at a hearing held via video conference. “I recognize that your client could potentially be exposed to COVID-19 while he’s at MDC. We’re all probably getting exposed to it on a daily basis.”
Ramsey said in an interview that his law firm has filed a series of similar requests in recent days. These individualized requests are one of the only tools he has as an attorney to try to protect his client from what he worries is an impending outbreak in the county jail.
“I don’t want it on my conscience if one of my clients gets deathly ill and I didn’t try to get them out,” Ramsey said.
Judge Brett Loveless on Tuesday denied a request for release filed by the attorney representing Donald Duquette, a 51-year-old man accused of killing a stranger while driving near the Big I over the summer. The judge said the pandemic did not justify reconsideration of whether he should be kept in jail.
Advocates have asked local and state officials in recent weeks to consider a broader plan to lower jail and prison populations, something jurisdictions around the country are trying to do in order to stem the spread of coronavirus. In a letter to the governor on Monday, the Law Offices of the Public Defender (LOPD) asked for “immediate executive action,” including the expansion of parole eligibility to help lower prison headcounts, demanding protective measures in correctional facilities, implementing widespread testing of inmates and staff, and reducing vulnerable and overall populations in local jails.
Without such mass action, defense attorneys are left to make their pleas on a smaller, case-by-case scale.
Albuquerque District Defender Jennifer Barela said she has been working with the District Attorney’s Office to try to reach agreements to release nonviolent offenders. MDC announced last week that it had released several inmates thanks to a collaborative effort by the county, DA’s Office and LOPD. Barela said she is working nonstop to get nonviolent people out fast.
“I’m very concerned about our clients at MDC,” Barela said in an interview. “Quite honestly, people could die. And I just think that dying for some possession cases is just not what we should be doing.”