Man Facing Burglary Charges Amid Pandemic Granted Supervised ReleaseApril 25, 2020, 7:30 AM HST (Updated April 25, 2020, 9:08 AM)
A man arrested and charged with burglarizing homes during the COVID-19 pandemic is out of jail.
On Friday, Jake Branch appeared before 3rd Circuit Court Judge Melvin Fujino for an arraignment and plea on charges related to residential burglaries in South Kohala and failing to obey officers’ commands. During the discussion of bail, Fujino decided to allow the 35-year-old supervised release.
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Chase Murray who was present at the hearing said he was surprised by the decision, as Branch is already pending trial on two separate cases.
During the hearing, Murray argued Branch was a flight risk, a danger to the community and asked the judge to maintain bail.
“Things often don’t go our way,” Murray said. “This one was pretty frustrating…”
Hawai‘i Police Department reached out to the public several times seeking help in locating Branch. He was eventually arrested Area II’s special enforcement officers on April 15, along with Alexandra Barnes-Carrick on outstanding warrants and additional charges.
HPD Area II’s Assistant Chief Robert Wagner said Branch’s release is disappointing.
“The community where he terrorized will be very upset,” he added. “Only time will tell if he will continue his crime spree.”
Murray said no specific motions were filed for Branch’s release due to coronavirus concerns within the jail. On Friday afternoon, the prosecutor couldn’t recall COVID-19 coming up at all during the hearing.
Barnes-Carrick remains in custody with a bail hearing scheduled for next week.
The Hawai‘i Supreme Court has been in ongoing discussions with the Office of the Public Defender and county prosecuting attorney offices statewide in regards to reducing inmate population to avoid the possible spread of the virus within the state’s overcrowded jails. Retired judge Daniel R. Foley was appointed as Special Master to help guide the discussions with all involved parties.
On Friday, Foley ordered that “efforts shall continue to be undertaken to reduce the inmate population of correctional centers and facilities to design capacity.”
As of Friday, 716 prisoners have been released from state correctional facilities. From March 2 to Friday, Hawai‘i Community Correctional Center’s inmate population has been cut down to near operating capacity, with 246 prisoners occupying the 226-bed facility. Since March 2, 149 inmates have been released.
No positive COVID-19 cases have been identified within any the state’s facilities.
According to the Special Master’s order, the Department of Public Safety shall provide protective masks to each inmate as soon as possible. Inmates in custody must wear protective masks when transported outside a correctional center or facility.
On April 15, the Office of the Public Defender provided as spreadsheet, which included 132 sentenced felony probations, 208 probation violations and 21 sentenced misdemeanors, 17 pre-trial misdemeanors and 204 pre-trial felonies to be reviewed for release.
Prosecuting Attorney for Hawai‘i County Mitch Roth said hearings for release due to COVID-19 are ongoing. This past week, there about 40 motions brought before the court.
“I believe at this time we are at a safe number and don’t believe we need to reduce further,” Roth said.
In regards to Branch, Roth believes he was disappointed in the judge’s decision to release of the 35-year-old.
“This goes beyond what the Supreme Court was looking at,” Roth said.
People need to realize, Roth said, that in the less serious cases, during this time, the prosecutor’s office is able to stipulate to some cases. However, prosecutor’s are objecting to any cases involving more serious crimes.
“Courts have been ruling on a case-by-case basis,” Roth said. “On some the cases we’ve been very disappointed.”