Local clergy and law enforcement officials will hold a public forum Wednesday on nighttime jail releases to address community concerns in the wake of the murder of beloved Eureka priest, Rev. Eric Freed. His alleged killer was arrested for public intoxication in Garberville and released after midnight a few blocks away from the St. Bernard Catholic Church rectory where the crime took place.
Redway resident Gary Lee Bullock has pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted arson, vehicle theft and murder -- with special allegations of torture and committing the crime during a first-degree residential burglary -- in connection with Freed's death. An August trial date has been set.
"The whole idea is to discuss being released from jail, and what the community feels and what we might be able to do about it," Eureka Police Department Chief Andrew Mills said.
Mills, along with District Attorney Paul Gallegos, Sheriff Mike Downey, Undersheriff Bill Honsal, Capt. Ed Wilkinson, Supervising State Probation Agent Alexander Purvis and representatives from the county probation department and mental health services, will be on a panel to discuss and answer questions regarding release times, mental and medical re-evaluation prior to release, and the return of inmates to where they live or were arrested.
During a Eureka Interfaith Fellowship meeting, Mills suggested to the informal group that an educational forum be held to educate people about the current procedures and regulations and to brainstorm options, Temple Beth El Rabbi Naomi Steinberg said.
"In any type of crisis, you have to start with education," Steinberg said. "What we really hope is that people will be better educated to understand the way the regulations currently work, and we will be able to work with law enforcement to hopefully make changes so that prisoners will not be released onto the street in the middle of the night."
While some question why inmates aren't held until services such as public transportation are available, Downey said the jail can't arbitrarily hold those who are eligible for release.
"We have constitutional guarantees for those that we take into custody, and have certain requirements that we must meet as far as when their release time is," Downey said. "To hold them arbitrarily beyond that would be infringing on their civil rights. The release time is not predicated on whether it's day, night or in between."
While the clergy's main concern is public safety, Freed's killing hit close to home, Steinberg said.
"So, of course, we need to be concerned, and it happened the most recent victim was a beloved member of the clergy," she said.
The sheriff's office is open to public feedback and any viable alternatives, Downey said, but Humboldt's jail policies mirror others in California.
"We're not doing anything different than anyone else would do," he said. "It's a fine balancing act between meeting the needs of those that we have in custody, and also the needs of the general public."
If you go:
What: Public safety forum
When: 3 to 5 p.m., Wednesday
Where: Wharfinger Building, located at 1 Marina Way, Eureka
Lorna Rodriguez can be reached at 441-0506 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LornaARodriguez.