CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — With COVID-19 numbers spiking, Nueces County judges say they are facing a dilemma when it comes to jury trials.
During a Board of Judges meeting Friday, 117th District Court Judge Sandra Watts said 410 felony inmates in the Nueces County Jail are ready for trial and have been in jail for more than 100 days.
Watts said there are 58 pending murder cases in Nueces County in which the accused have also been in jail for more than 100 days.
On June 21, Nueces County Sheriff J.C. Hooper said the county's jail system was at 99 percent capacity, and that the county's courts need to process more cases to help bring that figure down.
In July, Nueces County Commissioners Court approved much-needed help for the county jail. They passed two memoranda of understanding (MOU) to transfer inmates to Aransas and Victoria counties. According to the agreements, each county can receive 20 prisoners.
However, at Friday's meeting, Hooper told judges, "We've set up MOU's with Victoria and Aransas counties, they won't take prisoners because of our violent prisoner demographic at this time."
In an interview with KRIS 6 News, Hooper says that there is language in each MOU dictating the types of prisoners that can be transferred.
“They want our altar boys,” Hooper said. “Our jail demographics are such that all we have are violent offenders. We are having a difficult time moving these offenders.”
As of Friday, the Nueces County Jail is at 94 percent capacity, and needs to get below 90 percent, he said.
Currently, six inmates are being housed in Aransas County.
Hooper says that he is attempting to come to an agreement with representatives from Aransas and Victoria counties regarding the remaining inmates.
While Nueces County would like to get rid of its troublemakers, those counties want the healthiest and most low-risk offenders, he said.
Despite high numbers in the jail, Hooper says he will find a way to house inmates.
“It’s my job, it’s my responsibility, it’s my sworn obligation to contain and house inmates that the magistrates say need to be contained so I will find a way to make that happen,” he said.
While he has always been concerned for the safety of the prisoners and his officers, he says the demographics currently in the jail are concerning.
“Every day that I’ve been the sheriff I’ve been concerned about the safety of the prisoners and officers in my jail,” Hooper said. “The officers will keep the prisoners safe and themselves safe. But it is a different demographic than we’ve ever seen before. It is a very violent demographic. We need to move them out to TDC (Texas Department of Corrections) or find out that they are innocent.”
What is important is to keep the court system moving, he added.
"We're at a critical mass and it's not going to change anytime soon," said Hooper.
In the end, the judges passed a motion to continue doing jury trials with individual judges being able to call off jury based on protocols received.