4,198 days in: Meet the Douglas County Jail’s 5 longest residents
There’s a man who’s been in the custody of the Douglas County Jail more than three years and counting, with his trial not set to begin for another five months.
Two others have been in custody more than two years, one with a court case still pending and another who’s serving a sentence.
A number of others have been inmates for more than one year.
Who are these inmates, and why have they been in custody so long?
To answer that, the Journal-World requested from the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office the names of the inmates in continuous custody the longest, along with their booking dates and charges. The newspaper then reviewed each of the five longest inmate’s case files in Douglas County District Court.
With mail-in voting opening this week on a half-cent sales tax to fund a $44 million, 179-bed expansion of the jail and an $11 million behavioral health campus, the inmates overflowing the current jail have been a point of focus for the community.
The five longest inmates featured here have been in custody a combined 4,198 days. Their stays represent an extreme.
So far in 2018, the average length of stay for inmates is 15 1/2 days, according to Sgt. Kristen Channel of the sheriff’s office. In 2014, the average stay was 10 days, she said.
But although the number of days represent an extreme, the issues plaguing these cases can be found in many others. Determining a defendant’s mental health status can take a long time. The same is true for addressing drug and alcohol issues. Defendants also have great latitude to fire their attorneys — one of these fired three in a five-month span in one of his cases — which slows the process each time. And sometimes judges just decide a serial offender needs to spend a good amount of time in jail. Felony sentences generally are served in a state prison, but misdemeanors are served in jail. And as one case below shows, you can get in quite a lot of trouble with misdemeanors, if you keep committing them one after another.
The Douglas County Jail is tasked with finding room for everyone, regardless of how long their cases take. The jail is consistently over its 186-inmate capacity — a recent one-day count tallied 246 in custody — and the county spends about $1.5 million a year paying other counties to house the overflow.
Figuring out how to make cases move faster, theoretically, would relieve pressure on the jail. But Sheriff Ken McGovern reminds people that his office doesn’t play any role in speeding up that process, which isn’t a simple one.
“It’s driven by the courts, the prosecutor, the defense,” McGovern said. “It’s also driven by treatment centers, plans for release. It’s a bunch of moving parts.”
The county’s top prosecutor contends some cases are simply going to be lengthy.
“Generally, cases shouldn’t take this long,” Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson said. “But sometimes there are forces at work that are beyond the prosecutor’s control, and beyond the court’s control, that require delays in the case.”
Judges are the gatekeepers in ruling on requests by attorneys and keeping cases moving.
Douglas County District Court’s chief judge, Peggy Kittel, said she doesn’t think the county’s judges are approving frivolous requests that needlessly delay trials.
Kittel said if a defendant demands their preliminary hearing in 14 days or their case heard by a jury in the speedy trial window, the court makes it happen.
But when defense attorneys say they need more time, that request is taken seriously, Kittel said. If not, the case could be vulnerable to an appeal. Evidence, especially with increasing amounts of video and electronic information, takes significant time to review. Mental health and substance abuse evaluations and treatment also add time to cases, and Kittel said she thinks those requests for the most part are justified, too.
Kittel also said she is glad to see attempts at getting a handle on defendants’ mental illness, PTSD and drug and alcohol problems, sometimes even in the middle of criminal proceedings.
“We’re trying to address the origins of the criminal behavior, and that’s something we didn’t do a decade or two decades ago,” Kittel said. “It seems to me the criminal justice system as a whole is doing a better job at identifying those problems.”
But yes, she said, tackling those issues does add a lot of time.
These inmates are some examples.
No. 1 — Rontarus Washington Jr.
First-degree murder case, extensive pretrial disputes over mental fitness and evidence
Booked: March 16, 2015
Days in custody: 1,133
Rontarus Washington Jr. has a sole, but serious, criminal case in Douglas County.
Washington’s jury trial, already pushed back multiple times, is now scheduled to begin at the end of September — nearly four years after he allegedly stabbed and bludgeoned his 19-year-old neighbor to death in her bathroom at Cedarwood Apartments, 1727 W. 24th St.
In the meantime, Washington has been in custody for just over three years and a month, on $750,000 bond.
The DA’s paper case file for him would fill, and probably overflow, a shopping cart.
With more than half a dozen motions hearings — some that will take entire days — yet to go before he reaches trial, that file will keep expanding.
Washington is charged with first-degree murder, for allegedly intentionally killing Justina Altamirano Mosso on Nov. 7, 2014. He’s also charged with aggravated burglary, for allegedly entering Mosso’s apartment while she was home to commit theft.
Washington was booked into the jail March 16, 2015, after he was captured in Mississippi and transported back here.
Evaluations and debate over whether Washington is mentally fit to stand trial ate up close to a full year of his time in custody.
After at least one local psychological exam in early 2016, the court deemed him competent to stand trial, and other proceedings continued. But in 2017, Washington was sent to Larned State Hospital, where he spent several months undergoing an in-depth competency evaluation there.
Over the course of months upon his return, attorneys argued about his competency in a series of in-depth hearings that pitted an evaluation performed by the defense’s expert, who said Washington had cognitive disabilities, against one completed by Larned staff, who said he was capable. In late November 2017, the judge again ruled Washington was competent.
Defense attorneys have also filed extensive legal motions on Washington’s behalf, some of which involve requesting more DNA testing and requesting permission to admit evidence at trial that someone else committed the murder.
“Rontarus Washington Jr. has steadfastly maintained his factual innocence to the charges against him,” they wrote in one request. “… A careful, complete, and methodical analysis of the physical evidence is therefore necessary to ensure that neither Rontarus Washington Jr., nor his community is (irreparably) harmed or put at risk due to the incarceration of an innocent man instead of the guilty one.”
Among other complications, some witness testimony and written evidence has required Spanish translators.
Washington’s case had about a dozen witnesses named on the original charging document. According to a recently updated version, there are now more than 150.
No. 2 — Isaac A. Taylor
A stabbing charge, then a year and a half at the state psychiatric hospital
Booked: June 28, 2015
Days in custody: 1,029
On June 28, 2015, Isaac A. Taylor — seemingly unprovoked — stabbed a 17-year-old boy in the back of the neck with a pocketknife outside a deli in the 800 block of Massachusetts Street, police said at the time. The teen told police he didn’t know why, speculating only that maybe the assailant was angry because a few minutes earlier he’d given another transient man some change but didn’t give any to him.
Taylor, who was homeless, was arrested nearby and charged the next day with one count of aggravated battery, a felony. Bond was set at $15,000.
Taylor’s nearly three years in custody have been largely consumed by competency proceedings — including close to a year and a half he spent committed in Larned State Hospital.
Soon after Taylor was charged, “based on the defendant’s inability to understand the proceedings,” the judge ordered a psychiatric exam to determine whether he was mentally fit to stand trial.
About a month later, he was deemed competent, waived his preliminary hearing and was bound over for trial.
But in early 2016, Taylor’s attorney asked for proceedings to be delayed again “to inquire into possible mental health issues.” In September 2016, following another psychiatric exam, the judge found Taylor was not fit to stand trial and ordered him committed to Larned.
Now back in the Douglas County Jail, Taylor has finally “gained competency,” according to a March entry in his case. Criminal proceedings against him are scheduled to resume with a status conference on Tuesday.
No. 3 — Justin S. Miracle
Serving time for misdemeanors — lots of misdemeanors
Booked: March 9, 2016
Days in custody: 773
Justin S. Miracle’s court cases are resolved, and he’s now serving his time — a longer-than-typical sentence by county jail standards.
Miracle’s 30-month jail sentence resulted from a pileup of misdemeanor convictions and repeated failures while out of jail.
• March 2014 — Miracle is charged with felony identity theft and two counts of misdemeanor interference with law enforcement. He posts bond of $2,750.
• April 2014 — Miracle takes a plea deal and is convicted of one misdemeanor; other charges are dropped. He gets probation.
• June 2014 — Miracle picks up new charges: felony burglary plus misdemeanor theft, interference with law enforcement and fleeing police. Lawrence police pulled him over after seeing him nearly hit a parked car, but he ran, police said at the time. They arrested him about an hour later after he allegedly stole a laptop computer and shawl from a nearby home. He’s released on a $1,500 “own recognizance” bond.
• September 2014 — Miracle again takes a plea deal and is convicted of misdemeanors. He’s again granted probation.
• October 2015 — Still on probation, Miracle picks up more charges: battery and interference against law enforcement, misdemeanors.
• January 2016 — Miracle escapes from custody. He gets a new misdemeanor charge.
• March 9, 2016 — Miracle gets caught, and this time doesn’t get out. He was arrested for driving recklessly while trying to flee police and interfering with law enforcement, two new felony charges allege. He later is convicted of both felony counts.
• November 2016 — Citing a drug and alcohol evaluation, Miracle’s attorney asks for sentencing to be delayed so Miracle can go to a Topeka inpatient facility for a month. Though none of Miracle’s charges were for drugs or DUI, the attorney wrote, “he has active addiction issues with stimulants and alcohol that need to be addressed to assure compliance with terms of probation and avoidance of future unlawful activity.” The judge instead sentences him the same day.
For all the earlier convictions Miracle racked up, the judge orders Miracle to serve a total sentence of 30 months in custody at the county jail. After that, he’s to serve probation for his two felony convictions, with an underlying prison sentence if he fails, according to a judgment in the March 2016 case.
Miracle has sent handwritten letters to the court asking for his sentence to be reduced in exchange for participating in the jail’s inmate worker program.
“I have learned my lesson and I have grown up quite a bit since the court has sentenced me,” he wrote in one signed earlier this year. “I know what I did was wrong and just plain stupid. I promise if given a chance of freedom I will not make jail a revolving door.”
No. 4 — Christopher C. Maier
Charge after charge, streams of handwritten letters and legal filings
Booked: July 9, 2016
Days in custody: 652
Christopher C. Maier’s numerous case files dating to 2011 include hundreds of pages of handwritten letters and pro-se legal filings, embellished with a drawing Maier calls the “ion seal” and often signed “Christiano: of the Ariel Dynasty.”
At one court hearing last year, he refused to appear from the jail “unless and until the Court and the paperwork acknowledged him as Lucious Inferno Valentine,” a court journal entry says.
He has fired multiple attorneys. “I want a attorney who does not spend his time eating and hanging out with the officers & D.A.s of this town,” Maier complained about his first appointed attorney in one case. Claiming another attorney was “caught” talking to a prosecutor, Maier wrote, “I want him arrested.”
Another appointed attorney, Dakota Loomis, described working with Maier in a request for the court to find a case exceptional for payment purposes: “Defendant presented unique challenges due to his continuous production of letters to the Court and the State. This added numerous hours of review by defense counsel that would not be required in a nonextraordinary case. Defendant additionally required attention above and beyond that of an ordinary client due to his demanding and unpredictable nature.”
The alleged crimes that landed Maier in jail — this time around — were violent.
In June of 2016, he was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and aggravated battery, both felonies, plus criminal restraint, a misdemeanor. According to the police affidavit for his arrest, Maier hit a woman he’d had a relationship with, pointed a gun at her and threatened to shoot her, then bloodied her face with the butt of the gun.
Since being arrested on those charges July 9, 2016, he picked up new misdemeanor charges while in custody: two counts of criminal damage for allegedly damaging a “window and tray” and breaking a TV at the jail in October 2016.
Before his most recent jail booking, Maier did prison time for robbery conspiracy. He’s also been in the county jail before on methamphetamine possession and distribution charges and domestic violence charges against another woman, though both of those cases ended up dismissed.
In late 2016 and again in 2017, the judge ordered local psychiatric exams for Maier. In June 2017, the judge ordered him to Larned State Hospital to undergo a psychiatric exam. In January of this year she ordered him to undergo treatment at Larned for up to 90 days.
Maier is back in the Douglas County Jail now. He has a jury trial scheduled for July 30.
Meanwhile, he continues writing letters to the court.
No. 5 — Danny E. Coleman
Dozens of charges, a botched chance at inpatient treatment
Booked: Aug. 18, 2016
Days in custody: 611
Danny E. Coleman has been charged in more than 20 district court cases since 2003 — a mixture of felonies and misdemeanors — and served a web of prison time and probation in the past.
Now, he has a batch of about eight cases still pending. Most were filed in 2016, which Coleman spent posting bond in one case only to allegedly commit new crimes and get booked on the next.
photo by: Douglas County Sheriff's Office
That year, he was charged with felonies including aggravated robbery, theft, methamphetamine possession, forgery and criminal use of a financial card.
He was booked into jail Aug. 18, 2016, on a warrant for the aggravated robbery plus charges from another new incident that day, this time with a $30,000 bond.
A few months later, Coleman’s appointed attorney cited his “history of serious substance abuse” and “profound” mental health conditions including depression, anxiety disorders and cognitive impairment and asked the court to send him to inpatient treatment before resolving his case.
Being in jail seemed to break Coleman’s pattern of drug use and he was no longer experiencing withdrawal, attorney Angela Keck wrote, but he still “appears to be lacking the coping skills necessary to obtain full recovery from his addictions without the intervention of residential treatment.”
Deputies transported Coleman to an inpatient treatment center, where he was ordered to stay, still in the sheriff’s custody even though he was out of the jail.
But on Nov. 1, 2016, Coleman left. He was charged with aggravated escape from custody, another felony, and his bond went up to $100,000.
Coleman, in a later letter to the court, said he was “forced to leave” after being confronted by a co-defendant getting treatment at the same facility.
“I defendant Danny E. Coleman did not wont to catch a new charge in my distress acted to the best of my ability and removed myself from the situation by leaving,” Coleman wrote, double underlining ‘distress.’
In September 2017, Coleman entered a plea, convicting him of several charges in his batch of cases, including more than one felony.
The he started firing attorneys.
Citing a “breakdown” in communication, Keck withdrew.
Coleman’s new appointed attorney requested a psychological exam and, citing the results, later asked the court to give Coleman probation with inpatient treatment (in Wichita, where he wouldn’t run into people he knows) instead of prison, which he faces under sentencing guidelines. Last month, Jim Rumsey wrote that prison time for his felonies followed by local jail time for his misdemeanors would be “overboard” and “manifest injustice” for Coleman, because of his “mild intellectual disability.” He said the Wichita treatment center could help him apply for disability or help him find “low functioning employment.”
“If the Defendant goes to prison, he will receive virtually no treatment for substance abuse … and, it will be likely that he will reoffend shortly thereafter,” Rumsey wrote.
Then Coleman fired Rumsey in an angry phone call, telling Rumsey he’d been “done dirty” and wanted to “start from the beginning,” Rumsey wrote in his motion to withdraw from the case.
A week and a half ago, Coleman got a new attorney, who told the judge Coleman was considering withdrawing the pleas he made last fall.
Coleman is scheduled for sentencing on April 30.
More longtime inmates
These inmates round out the list, requested by the Journal-World, of the 10 people in the longest continuous custody of the Douglas County Jail, and their charges.
Source: Douglas County Sheriff’s Office
No. 6 — Sean P. Campbell
Days in custody: 548
Charges: Sentenced. Battery on law enforcement, violation of a protective order, domestic battery (second conviction), domestic battery (third conviction, a felony).
No. 7 — Wynn S. Anderson
Days in custody: 520
Charges: Attempted second-degree murder, criminal threat, probation violation.
No. 8 — Christopher A. Hinson
Days in custody: 493
Charges: Aggravated robbery, aggravated burglary, probation violation (out of county), battery and disorderly conduct (out of county).
No. 9 — Maurice A. Atkins
Days in custody: 439
Charges: Sentenced. Two probation violations.
No. 10 — Norris M. Hunter
Days in custody: 411
Charges: Aggravated robbery.