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Inmate Released Over Coronavirus Fears Murdered Someone After Release, Police Say
Joseph Edward Williams
Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office

Florida law enforcement officials say that a man who had been arrested in March on drug charges, and subsequently released from prison due to fears over the coronavirus, committed a murder the day after he was released from prison.

“According to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, deputies arrested 26-year-old Joseph Edward Williams for a homicide that happened in Tampa, Florida on March 20,” WBTV reported. “He is facing a second-degree murder charge along with resisting an officer with violence, felon in possession of a firearm, possession of heroin and possession of drug paraphernalia.”

Williams, who was arrested on March 13 on drug charges, was one of more than 100 inmates that were released from the Hillsborough County detention facilities on March 19 due to fear that the coronavirus could be spreading throughout the prison population.

“But now, deputies say, he has been arrested for a murder that took place March 20 along Ash Avenue in Tampa’s Progress Village neighborhood,” Fox 29 reported. “Deputies said the victim was found injured on the street, and he later died in the hospital.”

In announcing Williams’ arrest, which happened on Monday, Sheriff Chad Chronister said, “There is no question Joseph Williams took advantage of this health emergency to commit crimes while he was out of jail awaiting resolution of a low-level, non-violent offense. Every murder, every violent crime, especially those involving a gun, is a sickening example of the worst in our community, especially at a time when our community is working relentlessly to fight against the spread of this deadly COVID-19.”

Last month, Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) and subcommittee chairwoman Karen Bass (D-CA) demanded that Attorney General William Barr release as many prisoners from custody due to the spread of the coronavirus.

“We call on you, in the most urgent of terms, to do the right thing and exercise [authority to modify sentences of prisoners who present ‘extraordinary and compelling reasons’] and immediately move to release medically-compromised, elderly, and pregnant prisoners in the custody of the [Bureau of Prisons],” the Democrats wrote. “In addition, we urge that you use every tool at your disposal to release as many prisoners as possible, to protect them from COVID-19.”

The two Democrats said they had a problem with a memo from Barr that stated that low and minimum security facilities should be prioritized and those who were convicted of serious offenses should not be released. The two Democrats stated [emphasis added]:

Your memorandum specifies that priority should be given to inmates in low- and minimum-security facilities and that “serious” offenses should weigh more heavily against consideration for home detention. These limitations, unfortunately, beg the question of what you do with individuals who are at a high risk for contracting COVID-19 who are not in low- or minimum-security facilities, who have been convicted of serious offenses, or who have high PATTERN risk scores. We urge you to consider that even individuals in these categories should be assessed for release because they may be elderly or particularly vulnerable. Pregnant prisoners, in all circumstances, should be released to home confinement forthwith. We further urge you to assess the risk of contracting COVID-19 of every individual in BOP custody, regardless of the type of institution in which they are housed, the seriousness of their offense, or the potential recidivism risk they may present. If BOP decides to keep these individuals detained, what specific provisions are being made for those among them who are at high risk for contracting COVID-19? What plans are being made to communicate information to these individuals, their attorneys, and their loved ones, about the plan for their care behind bars during the COVID-19 pandemic?

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