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Police union lawyer: Suspect freed after positive COVID test

A domestic assault suspect was freed from jail after testing positive for COVID-19, despite being deemed dangerous enough that prosecutors wanted him held without a chance of bail, the attorney for the St. Louis Police Officers Association said.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the 36-year-old man was released on Jan. 4 and has not been re-arrested. Police association lawyer Jane Dueker said the suspect was released according to a policy by Mayor Tishaura Jones’ administration to limit the spread of COVID-19 in the downtown jail by not admitting people with the virus.

Dueker said the policy is “demoralizing” to police officers.

“The jail has no authority in state law, local law, to decide if someone gets held,” Dueker said Thursday. “A judge does that.”

Messages left Thursday with representatives of Jones and Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner weren’t immediately returned. But a statement from Corrections Commissioner Jennifer Clemons-Abdullah said the department works with hospitals, police and the city’s sheriff’s department to handle detainees with the virus on “a case-by-case basis.”

Police said in a statement that various factors determine whether suspects remain in custody.

“Health status is one factor, and the seriousness of the crime is another,” the statement said. The department said in all cases, it works to keep violent offenders off the streets.

The victim told police that she and the suspect were arguing when he pushed her and struck her in the face then grabbed a pot of soup from a stove and threw it at her, leaving her with burns.

Court records show that a judge on Jan. 5 ordered the suspect held without bail. A court order said he was a potential danger to the victim, the community or another person.

But by then he had already been released.

Dueker said while the suspect was in the jail on Jan. 4, Circuit Attorney Kimberly M. Gardner’s office informed jail officials that it was working to charge the man and asked that they keep holding him until that happened. However, Dueker said, he was released after three hours because of his positive coronavirus test result.

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