TAMPA, Fla. — Earlier this month, a Tampa man was arrested and charged in a fatal shooting.
That man was among more than one hundred inmates released from Hillsborough County jail in an effort to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Now, the sheriff is pledging to take action after the I-Team uncovered that released inmate wasn’t the only one who has been arrested again and charged with a new crime.
We combed through the list of Hillsborough County inmates released March 19. They were all described as non-violent offenders, but we found some with past convictions for violent crimes and others who ended up back behind bars on new charges.
Joseph Edward Williams was awaiting trial on drug charges when he was released from the Hillsborough County jail March 19.
At the time, Sheriff Chad Chronister told us he was releasing 164 inmates, in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“It is my hope these individuals will make the most of this opportunity to be with their loved ones. Help them prepare, comfort them. Quarantine with them,” Sheriff Chronister said when he announced their release last month.
But the i-team uncovered that didn’t happen in Williams’ case.
Deputies say he shot a man to death a day after his release.
The sheriff described Williams and the other inmates as “non-violent” offenders when he released them.
But when we reviewed Williams’ court record, it showed previous convictions for assault and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
The I-Team also uncovered other released inmates had previous convictions for armed robbery, false imprisonment, aggravated battery and sexual battery of a child.
And at least 16 released inmates have been arrested again — some multiple times — on new charges, including aggravated assault, felony burglary, drug possession and trespassing.
One released inmate allegedly pulled a knife on a man the day after his release and threatened to stab him.
Another is accused of breaking into a vape shop, where police say he stole tobacco products and an I-pad.
Responding to our findings, the sheriff is now pledging to fully vet the criminal backgrounds of all inmates released due to the pandemic.
“What we have done moving forward is anyone that we will release to prevent this spread of COVID-19, to protect the jail population and our employees, we’re going to run a criminal history. An extensive criminal history, to make sure that we’re adding that additional layer of security before we release anyone from our jails,” said Sheriff Chronister.
So far, there have not been any cases of COVID-19 involving inmates or staff at the Hillsborough County Jail.
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