Glen Cove police officers arrested Christopher Cruz, 30, on Feb. 20 and charged him with fifth-degree possession of stolen property after he was found with car keys and prescription medication that had been stolen from a vehicle. He was scheduled to be arraigned in Glen Cove Court on March 9, and released under terms of the state’s year-old bail reform law.
But on Feb. 24, Cruz was arrested by Suffolk County police, accused of stealing a Jeep in Port Jefferson that he used to ram a police vehicle, injuring two officers. He was charged with grand larceny, second-degree assault, third-degree criminal mischief and resisting arrest.
According to Detective Lt. John Nagle of the Glen Cove Police Department, Cruz said he was homeless when he was initially arrested.
GCPD Chief William Whitton said that has been arrested a total of 16 times, for offenses including assault, robbery, possession of stolen property and failing to appear in court. Nagle said Cruz had been put on a three-year probation in January 2013, but was arrested on April 15 of that year for violating his probation. He was sentenced to six months in jail the following September.
The fact that his second February arrest came only days after he was released by the city has added to the debate about the bail reform law, which took effect in January 2020.
“You have people going out there, purposely targeting people’s homes, doing burglaries, breaking into cars, walking into stores and shoplifting, then you have to turn around and … give the person an appearance ticket,” Whitton said. “It’s kind of disturbing to me because it takes away the ability for that person to, number one, be punished for their behavior, and number two, possibly get some kind of treatment where they won’t go out and do another crime.”
According to the law, those who are accused of crimes but do not have outstanding warrants are issued appearance tickets and are free to go before they are tried in court. The law does not apply to serious crimes such as first- and second-degree burglary, sex offenses, domestic-violence attacks, high-level drug crimes and other violent felonies.
Even if a suspect has a history of arrests, like Cruz, he or she does not have to wait for their trial in custody.
“It’s insane,” Whitton said. “They crafted these laws way too fast, without putting proper thought into them and [without] getting input from law enforcement, from people in the district attorney’s office, from the justice that has to adjudicate these offenses.”
Under the new law, Whitton explained, a suspect’s defense attorney can request what is called discovery — information about the suspect’s case, which can include addresses and phone numbers of victims and witnesses — earlier in the case.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Whtton said. “And it’s been a big fail — a really big fail … I think there’s been enough evidence to point to what the [lawmakers] did as a very big mistake.”
State Assemblyman Michael Montesano, a Republican from Glen Head, said that cases such as Cruz’s show that bail reform laws go too far in restricting the power of the courts. When he was a criminal attorney, Montesano said, he would examine offenders’ criminal histories to see what kinds of sentences they had received in the past, and determine whether they had issues besides their criminal records, such as struggles with mental health, substance abuse or homelessness. In those cases, a judge can order a defendant into a rehabilitation program. But that can be difficult under the new bail regulations, Montesano said, adding that the Cruz case resulted in a tragedy, the injury of two Suffolk police officers.
“You have to know something about the defendant and address the needs that they have,” he said. “…[Cruz] apparently has problems that need to be addressed by a social agency or by a hospital, and this could have been a discretion for the judge to use.”
County Legislator Delia DeRiggi-Whitton, a Democrat from Glen Cove, said the first state legislation focusing on bail reform laws was a bit lax on certain charges, though she said it is not fair for someone charged with a misdemeanor to sit in jail for an extended period of time because he or she cannot afford bail. However, DeRigg-Whitton added, cases such as Cruz’s show there is still work to be done.
She said she understands “the premise of not keeping people in jail for minor offenses,” DeRiggi-Whitton said, “but I do think that it needs to still be worked on a bit to make sure that those who should be held accountable are.”