Roderick Coffman, age 23, had been charged in relation to the shooting death of a 56-year-old man in 2018 but had remained in the Harris County jail on a $200,000 bond until this summer when the 208th District Court under Judge Greg Glass reduced his bond to $150,000 and authorized release.
According to county records, Coffman did not comply with his release conditions, and Harris County’s pretrial services department reported being unable to track Coffman due to a dead battery in his monitoring device. The court placed him in bond forfeiture on September 2, 2021, but his whereabouts were unknown until yesterday when he and another suspect allegedly robbed a Walgreens at knifepoint in north Harris County.
According to Crime Stoppers Houston victim’s advocate Andy Kahan, the number of defendants in the county currently wanted for bond forfeiture is unknown.
“When a released defendant is in bond forfeiture, no one is notified, not even the victims or their families,” Kahan told The Texan.
During a discussion of the county’s criminal case backlog of more than 50,000 cases at Harris County commissioners court Tuesday, Commissioner Adrian Garcia (D-Pct. 2) said that the county jail is at full capacity and expressed frustration that some available courtrooms were not being used for trials.
“I am imploring the county judges to get the courts up and running,” said Garcia.
Although the county has created three temporary courts to help address the backlog, appointed judges for those courts have not yet been approved by the Supreme Court of Texas.
Of the existing courts, there are at least three who have not held a single trial since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, including Judge Glass’s court.
The commissioners court has also come under fire for recently shifting $20 million away from the county’s eight elected constables and instead funding new intervention initiatives managed by the health department.
Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez on Tuesday also pleaded with county administrator David Berry to find additional funds for additional jail staff to help manage and process criminal defendants. Gonzalez also complained about judges who incarcerated defendants “on a pre-trial basis,” but also said that at least 75 percent of jail inmates were violent suspects. He also urged the county to further address the case backlog.
Following Gonzalez’s remarks, county Judge Lina Hidalgo expressed frustration at the conflicting information provided about the criminal justice process.
“Someone has got to own this and provide consistent reports to us,” intoned Hidalgo.
Jim Bethke, director of the Justice Administration Department created under Hidalgo’s direction two years ago, recently submitted his resignation and was not available to answer queries from commissioners.
Many of the changes implemented in the county’s structure have been in response to recommendations from PFM Consulting Group, but this week the court emphatically pushed back the group’s latest report advocating for eliminating or sharply reducing responsibilities for the county’s eight elected constables.
Commissioner Tom Ramsey (R-Pct. 4) noted that in conducting research PFM Consulting had completely rejected reports compiled by the county’s constables and instead targeted both constables and justices of the peace (JPs) for elimination under a new structure.
Ramsey presented a resolution to “affirm that having eight constables and 16 JPs is integral to our law enforcement program here in Harris County.”
Garcia seconded and Commissioner Jack Cagle (R-Pct. 4) also pointed out that the commissioners court had previously passed a resolution in support of the constables, but that PFM had chosen to ignore the stance of the court.
Ramsey’s new resolution was approved unanimously.
Earlier this week Gov. Greg Abbott signed legislation that would prohibit the release of capital murder suspects on personal bonds, but a proposal to amend the state constitution to allow judges and magistrates to deny bond failed to garner the two-thirds vote necessary for a constitutional amendment election.
As of Wednesday morning, Coffman was still in custody in the Harris County jail system and bond has been set by the 208th District Court at $500,000. He is being represented by the Harris County public defender’s office.
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Holly Hansen is a freelance writer living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.