According to data from the Harris County District Attorney’s Office (HCDAO) obtained by The Texan, the number of suspects charged with FPW more than doubled between 2015 and 2021 from 1,029 to 2,209. Of those, the number of defendants already out on one or more felony bonds jumped from 82 to 564 during the same period, nearly a 700 percent increase.
The county also saw a rise in the number of new felony charges filed against defendants while on bond for FPW from fewer than 200 in 2015 to more than 1,300 in 2021.
For a region that has grappled with rising homicide and violent crime, even greater concern is paid to the increasing number of defendants charged with Aggravated Assaults or homicides while out on FPW bond. There were nine in 2015 and 150 in 2021, marking an increase of more than 1,500 percent.
Among those cases, the number of Aggravated Assault cases involving family violence rose from three to 53.
Earlier this year, authorities charged suspect Jeremiah Jones, who was out on five bonds including one for FPW, with the “execution” capital murder of nine-year-old Khylie Sorrels. In another local case, Judge Josh Hill of the 232nd District Court in 2021 twice approved bond release for Delvin Clemons on charges of FPW despite his 17 prior felony convictions. Clemons is now charged in the murder of Keishan Betts that took place in April 2022.
But the data provided by HCDAO may not present the entire picture, since at least one analysis shows that there has been an increase in the number of Aggravated Assault charges dismissed by criminal court judges in Harris County.
According to data provided to The Texan by the Glenda Gordy Research Center at Crime Stoppers of Houston, approximately 42 percent of Aggravated Assault cases were dismissed in 2015, while 59 percent were dismissed in 2021.
Additionally, when law enforcement officers arrest a felon suspected of committing new crimes, the district attorney’s office may choose to file more serious charges such as Aggravated Assault or Aggravated Robbery in lieu of FPW.
Houston and Harris County have grappled with rising crime since at least 2019, with many analysts, including District Attorney Kim Ogg, pointing to bail bond policies implemented by many criminal court judges and magistrates.
Although misdemeanor bail policy in Harris County is largely governed by a 2019 federal consent decree known as ODonnell, elected criminal court judges and appointed magistrates set bail for felony defendants.
Last month, Ogg told state legislators that Harris County courts had refused to provide HCDAO with information on the process for appointing magistrates who set bail bonds. According to records obtained by The Texan, there is a panel tasked with appointing magistrates consisting of nine judges: Holly Williamson, Eric Carter, Lincoln Goodwin, Genesis Draper, Ashley Guice, David Singer, Amy Martin, Kelli Johnson, and DaSean Jones.
Under state law, felons may not possess a firearm for five years after completion of a sentence, and then may have a firearm in a residence only. Federal law however, prohibits felons sentenced to imprisonment of more than one year from owning a firearm either inside or outside a home.
The HCDAO report shows that there are at least 1,382 defendants currently out on bond for FPW pending trial, 495 who have been charged but not arrested, and 54 of unknown status.
A copy of the HCDAO’s “Felon in Possession of a Weapon” data can be found below.
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Holly Hansen is a regional reporter for The Texan 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.