Could higher bond have avoided officer shooting?

Cleven J. Johnson, 26 (Photo Courtesy: Knox County Sheriff's Office)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- Would officer Norman Rickman have been shot if the man accused hadn't gotten out of jail on bond only days before?

The principle of bond isn't to punish. It's "how much" will guarantee you'll show up for arraignment or trial.

Knox County's system is so crowded that, most times, court clerks or commissioners -- not judges -- set the first bonds.

Their rules and time constraints can frustrate prosecutors and police.

Anderson County Sheriff Paul White says, “Some of the crimes you bond ‘em out on is [sic] crimes that you wonder when they get out what's gonna happen.”

The Anderson County's sheriff’s speculation, is Knoxville's reality, after, according to Knoxville Police Chief Sterling Owen, a convicted thief and abuser “was last arrested this past Friday night for drugs and having a tec9 semi automatic pistol in his car.”

…Only to get out on $2,500 bond, and only days later be charged with shooting officer Norman Rickman after a burglary.

Anderson County Sheriff Paul White, says, “I don't know if it's the courts that don't realize the seriousness of what's behind it.”

The complaint affidavit shows the officer who arrested Clevan Johnson knew then that Johnson was, according to Chief Owen, facing charges of “simple possession (and) evading arrest in december...”

Tennessee law allows judges, magistrates, judicial commissioners and clerk
to consider a number of factors when setting bail -- ranging from criminal record, the specific offense, and the risk to the rest of us -- to his or her time in the community, job and family history, and reputation.

Tim Beshea with Unchained Bail Bonds says, “Making that assessment --you can only do it by the application that we have.”

The bondsman who bailed Clevan Johnson last Friday says Johnson's record
of showing up made him a good risk.

Judicial Commissioner Stanley LaDuke didn't set Clevan Johnson's bail last Friday,but he says it's tough to set high bonds on misdemeanor charges, and you can't determine which of them might go over the edge the next day.

Sheriff White says, “To have a fix, you'd probably have to have some type of preliminary hearing before any bond was set on any case.”

In other words, it’s a chance to hear some of the evidence. But Sheriff White doubts “that would be a fix at all either. That would give you more overcrowded jails.”

Court clerks have set dollar limits -- no more than a thousand bucks for a misdemeanor – regardless of somebody's criminal history.

Tennessee law also gives defendants the right to appeal, if they feel their bond is too high.

In Knox County, judicial commissioners and judges have access to county criminal records, but not the full national background search, which means first round bail decisions often are gut checks.

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