Reprinted From Last Week’s
Freeman’s, Hometown Oneonta
FREED INMATE RE-ARRESTED WITHIN HOURS
By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – Within three days of being released from the custody of the Otsego County Corrections under the state’s new bail reform, James C. Sitts, 39, Laurens, allegedly stole a pick-up truck from a residence in Laurens.
“He was awaiting trial on two home invasions,” said Sheriff Richard J. Devlin Jr. “But under the new law, he was released on Dec. 31.”
Though in custody of Otsego County since December 2018, Sitts had been held on the count of burglary in the second degree at the Delaware County Jail, as the Otsego County Jail is undergoing repairs. “The jail put stipulations on his release,” said Devlin. “But, of course, he violated them. I figured it would take a little longer, but we hit the ground running.”
On Friday, Jan. 3, sheriff’s deputies arrested Sitts after they received a report that a pick-up truck had been stolen in Laurens. The truck was found in another location, and Sitts was then arrested and charged with grand larceny, third degree, and criminal possession of stolen property, third degree, both class D felonies.
“The truck that was stolen was owned by someone who was self-employed,” said Devlin. “His tools were inside. So now the victim can’t work, doesn’t have the tools of his trade. He needs to make a living. This is exactly what we feared would happen.”
Sitts was remanded back to the Delaware County Jail, but because he had committed a felony while out on another felony, he was given the same bail as had been set for his previous charge, $25,000 cash or $50,000 bond.
“Sitts has been incarcerated 16 times,” said Devlin. “This isn’t someone who made an error in judgment one time. He’s been in and out of jail for years.”
Across the state, police departments and jails are dealing with the new laws. In Cohoes, Anthony Ojeda, 38, was released from jail after being charged with second-degree manslaughter, in the death of his 6-week-old son; in Cortland. Shawn Fagan, 52, was given an appearance ticket for felony second-degree assault and criminal possession of a weapon after he shot a woman in the mouth with a pellet gun.
“It’s common sense,” said District Attorney John Muehl. “If the people who made this law didn’t see this coming, maybe they shouldn’t be the ones making laws.”
Devlin is also struggling with the new discovery requirements, which state that all evidence must be turned over to the defense within 15 days of arrest.
“My deputies spent two hours scanning documents on this stolen truck case,” said Devlin. “Even a normal traffic ticket that might take 20 minutes now takes two hours of paperwork. We’re completely overwhelmed.”
But on Monday, Jan. 6, Governor Cuomo admitted there are some issues in the law that need working out.
“There’s no doubt this is still a work in progress and there are other changes that have to be made,” he said. “The Legislature comes back next year and we’re going to work on it because there are consequences that we have to adjust for.”
“At the very least, we need to give judicial discretion on whether someone should be released or not,” said state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford. “What’s the risk of releasing someone. What’s
the risk to the community? My sense is there’s a groundswell of support for doing something there.”