Criminal JusticeLocal NewsState HouseHarris County Releasing Felons Possessing Firearms on Personal Recognizance ‘30 to 40 Times a Month’

A Houston victims advocate asked lawmakers to consider adding Felon in Possession of a firearm to a law limiting personal bonds for some criminal charges.
October 14, 2022
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During a Texas House Interim Study Committee on Criminal Justice Reform hearing on Wednesday, Andy Kahan of Crime Stoppers of Houston held up a folder with hundreds of Harris County cases in which a suspect arrested on charges of Felon in Possession of a Weapon (FPW) had been released on a Personal Recognizance (PR) bond this year.

“We’re averaging anywhere from 30 to 40 cases a month in Harris County of defendants being released on a PR bond,” said Kahan. “These are felons in possession of a firearm, a gun.”

Kahan cited the case of Quinnton Allen, a felon convicted of armed robbery with a deadly weapon but paroled in December 2021. Within weeks, Allen was re-arrested and charged with FPW, but Judge Jason Luong approved his release on PR bond.

On June 18, 2022, police say Allen shot and killed 29-year-old Luis Espinoza. Allen is now back in custody and awaiting trial for murder.

Suspects released on PR bonds are not required to pay for a cash or surety bond, but a new state law passed in 2021 known as Senate Bill (SB) 6 restricted the use of such bonds for certain violent crimes. Both chambers of the Texas Legislature are examining the impact of the legislation and considering ways to strengthen bail rules.

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“Obviously, gun safety is an issue [for] everybody these days but this is something I don’t think anybody really wants to talk about,” said Kahan, who suggested lawmakers consider adding FPW to the list of offenses not eligible for PR bond.

In Harris County, the number of new felony charges filed against defendants charged while on bond for FPW increased from fewer than 200 in 2015 to more than 1,300 in 2021.

Kahan noted that since the passage of SB 6, the number of violent offenders who were getting PR bonds in Harris County had declined from a high of 1,283. According to Crime Stoppers’ analysis, the number is expected to drop to 236 in 2022.

Despite improvements, there are still judges releasing violent suspects on PR bonds in Harris County.

Kahan highlighted the case of Roy Don Thompson, a suspect with a lengthy violent criminal history charged with another violent felony in January 2021. Although a magistrate sought a higher bond, Judge Natalia Cornelio of the 351st Criminal District Court awarded Thompson with a PR bond just a month later.

“This particular defendant was declared a fugitive and now has a warrant out for his arrest,” said Kahan.

The committee, chaired by Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano), also heard from witnesses on the implementation of the new Public Safety Report System (PSRS) mandated by SB 6. PSRS is a state database judges and magistrates must use before setting bail to see if a suspect is already out on bond for other charges.

While all but two Texas counties have been inputting information, Waller County Justice of the Peace J.R. Wooley testified there was ambiguity as to who is responsible for entering new records, and because nearly every county has its own unique system, PSRS currently creates “double work” for law enforcement agencies.

Chambers County Sheriff Brian Hawthorne said the Office of Court Administration would be making an interface available, but creating an interface with his county would cost about $15,000. He suggested the state should provide funds to smaller counties without the financial resources to accommodate an interface.

Ken Good of the Professional Bondsmen of Texas noted that despite the bond restrictions imposed by SB 6, Harris County was operating under the terms of a federal consent decree stemming from a lawsuit over misdemeanor bail. According to an analysis Good’s organization has conducted, the percentage of misdemeanor defendants failing to appear for their court dates has skyrocketed.

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Holly Hansen

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.