Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer Monday slammed an “appointed commissioner” who cited the COVID-19 pandemic in lowering the bail of a man charged in an alleged street-racing crash that killed two men in Santa Ana.
The attorney for Damian Chavez, 24, of Bellflower, fired back that Spitzer was engaging in dangerous rhetoric.
Chavez is charged with two counts of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and one count of hit-and-run with death, with sentencing enhancement allegations of leaving the scene of a deadly crash and inflicting great bodily injury on the victims.
The Orange County Superior Court commissioner, whose name was not released by Spitzer, lowered Chavez’s $100,000 bail to $20,000 over the objections of prosecutors. Chavez posted bail hours later, prosecutors said.
The commissioner cited the pandemic when lowering the bail, and rejected a second appeal from prosecutors on Friday, according to Spitzer’s office.
Spitzer has been critical of the state’s program to lower bail for many defendants to reduce population in the jails as sheriff’s officials throughout the state try to keep a lid on coronavirus outbreaks.
“Knowing the inherent — and potentially deadly — risks, this individual chose to engage in illegal street racing, which resulted in the deaths of two people,” Spitzer said in a prepared statement. “The Santa Ana Police Department worked diligently to track down this dangerous driver, and within a few days he’s back on the street.
“Our law-abiding residents are being ordered to stay home, but dangerous and violent inmates are being allowed to walk out the front door of our jails and right back into our communities on (zero) bail or substantially reduced bail,” he said. “This pandemic cannot be used to defy common sense. This has to stop.”
Chavez’s attorney, Robert Helfend, said, “While the facts of Mr. Chavez’s matter are yet to be litigated and not to diminish the lives that were lost, it is a danger to our democracy to have government officials criticize this country’s judges.”
Helfend added, “Using the term `appointed’ and `unelected’ shows an intention to intimidate the judiciary, by inherently letting our courts k now that their governmental office will publicly condemn them for any future ruling which the government disagrees with. It is imperative in the United States of America that we, as a society, not tolerate any institution and/or individual who attempt to diminish the independent and unbiased decision-makers, which make up our judiciary.”
Chavez was allegedly racing with another driver whose car slammed into a tree in the 3200 block of South Bear Street about 9:15 p.m. on April 20, 2019. The car burst into flames and the victims, 39-year-old Jerman Marquez and 29-year-old Richard Inda, were pronounced dead at the scene.
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