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Nearly a dozen defendants released without bond due to court error

Steve Garrison The Daily Times
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Nearly a dozen defendants arrested on charges ranging from drunken driving to domestic battery were released without bond from the county jail over the Fourth of July weekend after a magistrate judge failed to review evidence in their cases.

Barry Massey, spokesman for the New Mexico Administrative Office of the Courts, said in an email Wednesday a magistrate judge is required to visit the San Juan County Adult Detention Center every weekend to review probable cause statements for defendants arrested without warrants.

Massey said the judge reviews the statements to determine what conditions of release, if any, are appropriate for defendants arrested without a warrant.

All the defendants inadvertently released without bond made their initial court appearances on July 13, Massey said.

Over the Fourth of July weekend, James Mosberger was initially scheduled to review statements, but Mosberger resigned as Division 5 judge at Farmington magistrate court on June 30, according to Massey.

Mosberger was expected to be replaced by Aztec Magistrate Court Presiding Judge Trudy Reed Chase, but Reed Chase swapped the shift with Aztec Judge Barry Sharer, Massey said.

Massey said Sharer forgot to visit the jail on Friday, July 3, but went late to the jail on Sunday, July 5, after being notified by jail officials the cases were not performed.

Sharer said in a statement that he had family visiting and staying at his house over the holiday weekend, which caused him to forget to visit the jail.

"When the jail called about 10:30 p.m. Sunday night, I dropped whatever I was doing and went to the jail," he said. "But by then it was too late to make a determination whether 11 people who had been arrested should remain in custody."

Massey said 11 defendants were released on their own recognizance on July 5 due to their probable cause statements not being reviewed within the required 48-hour period.

The San Juan County Adult Detention Center said only 10 defendants were released.

The defendants are required to meet the basic conditions of release, which require they avoid contact with alleged victims and witnesses, remain within the county and not imbibe alcohol or illegal drugs.

"It was human error," Massey said. "The magistrate judges in Farmington and Aztec have agreed to communicate better to ensure this doesn't happen again."

San Juan County Chief Deputy District Attorney Dustin O'Brien said, as far as he was aware, a mistake such as this has not happened before.

"If one or two (defendants were released), we may not see it," he said. "But if it were a regular occurrence, not only would we know about it, but we would be doing something about it."

O'Brien said the county should be credited for following the 48-hour evidence review rule; in many smaller, rural communities, he said the rule is not followed at all, and defendants are simply held longer than 48 hours without due process.

"Some of those jurisdictions, they simply ignore the rule," O'Brien said. "They simply arraign them when they arraign them."

San Juan County Sheriff Ken Christesen said Sharer made an unfortunate mistake during the Fourth of July weekend.

"We just would like to see it tightened up a little bit to make sure no violent criminals are released," Christesen said.

The defendants released without bond were arrested between July 1 and July 3 on charges that include armed robbery, resisting arrest, domestic battery, drunken driving and assault of a police officer.

As reported by The Daily Times, one of those defendants, Joseph Barela, was arrested July 3 on suspicion of attempting to rob the Pancake Alley in downtown Farmington using a firearm.

Barela, 31, was initially held on a $20,000 bond, according to court records, but was released without bond on July 5 due to the court's error.

Barela, who is expected to appear at a preliminary examination hearing on Wednesday, has not been appointed an attorney by the court or retained his own legal representation, according to court records.

Another defendant, Kyle Lee, was arrested the night of July 2 on allegations he beat and choked a woman at the Motel 6 on East Bloomfield Boulevard in Farmington. According to the probable cause statement, Lee, 28, choked the woman with both hands and then smashed a 30-pack of bottled beer over her head.

Lee then left the hotel and got in a fight with his father in the parking lot over who would drive their vehicle, according to the statement. The father told police his son punched him in the nose and mouth.

Lee was released July 5 without a bond, despite having been arrested three months prior, again on suspicion of domestic battery. In that instance, Lee is accused of punching and choking the 35-year-old mother of his two children on March 29 outside the woman's residence on East Tycksen Drive in Farmington, according to the probable cause statement. A neighbor interceded in the fight, and Lee fled in a vehicle, according to the statement.

Lee posted a $10,000 surety bond in that case, according to court records. Lee's defense attorney, Scott Curtis, declined to comment.

Leyandrew Allen was arrested July 1 on his seventh drunken driving offense and child abuse, according to court records. Allen, 29, was stopped by a patrol officer at approximately 11:13 p.m. driving a vehicle occupied by a 7-year-old girl in the area of West Animas Street and South Lorena Avenue, according to the probable cause statement.

Allen smelled of alcohol and failed several field sobriety tests, according the statement. Police administered a breath test and Allen registered a 0.07 blood-alcohol content level, which is below the legal limit of 0.08 to operate a vehicle, but Allen also admitted to smoking marijuana an hour earlier, according to the statement.

According to court records, Allen was released July 5, but then arrested July 13 on a bench warrant after he failed to make a court appearance in an unrelated case.

Allen's ex-wife, reached by telephone, said she has not yet had an opportunity to speak to Allen, but she expects to visit him at the jail today.

According to court records, Allen has not yet been assigned legal representation.

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and stgarrison@daily-times.com. Follow him on Twitter @SteveGarrisonDT on Twitter.