Hundreds of inmates released in metro area due to overcrowding

New information on the military imposter our KGW Investigators have been profiling for months

PORTLAND, Ore. — In the past six weeks, hundreds of inmates have been released early from area jails due to overcrowding.

Since Jan. 1, the Multnomah County Jail freed 25 people. In Clackamas and Washington counties, officials say approximately 700 people have been let out in recent weeks due to space issues.

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At all three facilities, space is expected to be a pressing issue for the foreseeable future.

Among the more notable early release recipients is Michele Bocci, the local man who claimed to be a decorated Marine and was exposed as an imposter, according to authorities. Bocci was one of 25 people released from the Portland facility in January and February.

KGW's Kyle Iboshi reported previously how Bocci was recently arrested again for allegedly faking he was a doctor and defrauding a woman of $30,000.

Jail overcrowding is not just a Multnomah County issue. KGW found other area jails have also been frequently releasing inmates due to space considerations.

In Multnomah County, the Sheriff's Office has a complex numbering system to determine which inmates are the lowest risk to the community and themselves, who has mental health issues and who will likely show back up to court. The inmates with the lowest "matrix" number are the ones selected for emergency release when jail beds reach 95 percent capacity.

Some of the common charges these 25 men were let go on include forgery, drugs, resisting arrest, theft, assault and harassment.

Washington County Jail photo. NIna Mehlhaf, KGW, 2018

"They're going to be low-level offenders, no history of violence, no history of harm to themselves, good background as far as appearing to court. Less chance of recidivism, that's what we're shooting for," said Multnomah County Sheriff's Office spokesman Marc Shrake.

While most of the charges are relatively minor compared to violent felonies, one of the newly released inmates was charged with attempted murder. That inmate was let out just 10 days after being booked into jail.

Others were let out early on charges of assaulting police officers and not registering as a sex offender.

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Multnomah County early releases

Releasing inmates who have anything to do with sex abuse drew a negative response from residents interviewed in person and on social media.

"It makes it more unsafe, especially in the downtown area since that's where they get released," said Mike Bruce of Hillsboro. "Yeah, I'm not happy about that."

See the Facebook post below for some of the feedback received.

The emergency jail releases in January and February bring the total number of inmates let out early in Multnomah County to 95 in the past year. Before that, the Sheriff's Office says an emergency release hadn't happened since 2013.

There are 1,192 jail beds in the Multnomah County facility, the largest in the state. The Sheriff's Office reports that with Portland's growth, those beds are consistently full. Because of budget constraints, two jail dorms were closed down in 2016 and 2017, taking away approximately 300 beds.

Right now, Multnomah County's downtown justice center jail and the Inverness Jail in Northeast Portland are at 94 percent capacity. At 92 percent, a yellow alert goes out that an emergency release is imminent. At 95 percent capacity, a red alert goes out.

"That actually gets dispatched to all cars in the field, so they'll actually know, 'OK, be diligent of what you're booking down there because of where our status is at,' " Shrake said.

"Nobody likes to think we create fear releasing folks, but we do our due diligence," Shrake said. "We try to be good stewards not only of financial resources, but as the safety of our community is paramount to us."

Hillsboro and Washington County are growing as well, with huge new housing developments. South Hillsboro, a future community bringing 20,000 more people, broke ground in 2016. All those new people mean more arrests.

But Washington County numbers show a frustrating trend. Since January 1, 2018, about 300 inmates have been emergency released from Washington County's jail early, with most of them leaving the same day or the day after they're arrested. It has been a large spike, considering 550 inmates were emergency-released in all of 2017. Total bookings for 2014 were over 17,000.

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Washington County early releases

Sheriff's Office officials said the increased trend of emergency releases are partially due to one wing of the jail, 60 beds, being closed for the past year for security upgrades. It will reopen in May.

Jail Division Commander Matt Frohnert said January and February are consistently busy jail months due to the holidays and court processes being postponed until after the first of the year.

In Clackamas County, 400 inmates have been released from jail early since January 1 because of overcrowding. Data shows Clackamas County let out 23 percent of their lowest level inmates early in 2017.

Prosecutors and jail commanders say it's frustrating to see money and time spent on investigations and arrests, only for the person to get out and often disappear and skip court. Many people on the emergency release list have multiple felony level "failure to appear in court" charges. The Sheriff's Office said it tries not to release those people, but sometimes it must to make room for more dangerous inmates.

Washington County Jail photo. NIna Mehlhaf, KGW, 2018

"We average about 49 bookings a day and there's 49 people that come in, and there's gotta be 49 people that go out because we manage our jail at full capacity," Frohnert said.

In Multnomah County there are no plans to expand the current jail, so additional releases due to overcrowding are expected.

"The solution is never easy. I don't think there's going to be a simple solution. Honestly, we could throw a lot of money at it but it doesn't solve the underlying problem. We need to look at the bigger approach of how do we keep people from offending in the first place. We need to invest in human capital. If we see people going down a path, we need to provide opportunities to knock them off that path," Shrake said.

As for Washington County, it's the second-largest jail in Oregon and has the eighth-largest emergency jail releases. Even still, a jail expansion is being discussed.

"We are in definite discussions about where will our jail be size-wise in the future. We are having to consider strongly, potentially having to ask for a jail expansion," Frohnert said. That would mean a possible Sheriff's Office bond voted on by the taxpayers to add a second jail, or expand the existing one.

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