Dozens of county jail inmates awaiting trial on non-violent charges will soon be released from the overcrowded Comal County Jail and nearby facilities. 

Bruce Boyer, 22nd Judicial District and administrative justice said the orders, signed Monday, will place about 50 offenders into pre-trial adult community supervision. Half will be freed from the county lockup, with the other half from nearby correctional facilities.

Sheriff Mark Reynolds said the jail had been in the process of freeing up space to isolate inmates who test positive for the COVID-19 virus. He said 72 offenders were released between March 16 and noon on Monday, compared to the 104 released during the same period in 2019.

“Those releases were on bond, time served or other reasons,” he said, adding all incoming and outgoing offenders are screened upon entering and exiting the jail under the latest directives by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards. 

“They are asked if they have recently been to certain (virus-afflicted) countries, been in contact with others with symptoms or if they are having symptoms,” Reynolds said. “We take their temperature, ask the questions, and have followed all of those protocols for quite a while now.”

Reynolds said suspects in violent crimes and outstanding warrants must be brought in. He said deputies are using common sense in determining which cases merit citations or trips to the pokey. That alone wouldn’t free up necessary space in the 337-bed jail — which led judges to consider releasing those awaiting trials for non-violent offenses.  

Boyer said he and fellow district court justices Jack Robison, Gary Steel and Dib Waldrip met with criminal district attorney, adult supervision and sheriff’s staffers before drafting the proposal. 

“We reviewed them on a case-by-case basis,” he said. “It depended on what they’re charged with — most are drug charges, thefts, and (similar) cases — and what their backgrounds are or if their cases have enhancements that (warrant) higher-degree felonies.”

On March 17, De Hieu Nguyen, 41, of Harvey, Louisiana was booked into the Comal County lockup after a stay in the Jefferson Parish Correctional Center in Gretna, Louisiana, which is now awaiting test results of two offenders suspected with coronavirus symptoms.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported Jean Llovet, the facility’s health services director, said both inmates had been quarantined with coronavirus symptoms but had not yet tested positive, and that three other inmates with COVID-19 symptoms had not met testing criteria. Reynolds said Nguyen, one of three suspected in the 2015 capital murder of Samantha Miranda of New Braunfels, was examined upon entering the jail and again last weekend, when all 258 offenders were re-screened for the virus. 

“All who were held in custody were reexamined by medical staff and none showed signs or symptoms,” Reynolds said. “That included Mr. Nguyen, who insisted he hasn’t been around anyone who was sick, so all appears to be OK.”

Reynolds confirmed the same through Jefferson Parish jail officials later Monday afternoon. He said he is still awaiting formal release orders on the other suspected offenders.

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