A Valley Springs man sentenced to five years in the Calaveras County Jail in July for growing more than 1,700 marijuana plants was given permission by Sheriff Gary Kuntz to attend a wedding in Placerville in late September. He was accompanied by two armed guards.
Edward Angel Pereira, 39, was convicted in June of possessing marijuana for the purpose of sale, two counts of receiving stolen property and possessing an illegal assault rifle. As part of a plea bargain he made with the District Attorney’s Office, charges of criminal conspiracy against his wife, Alicia Pereira, and son, Andrew Adams, were dropped.
He was arrested March 12 on McCauley Road as part of a Sheriff’s Office raid, which netted four arrests, more than a thousand marijuana plants, a cache of weapons and processed marijuana.
Months after Pereira was sentenced to five years in jail, a letter came across Kuntz’s desk from the offender’s sister, who was a bride-to-be.
“She was getting married,” Kuntz said. “Her brother, who was in jail, had promised her he would walk her down the aisle.”
After reading the letter, Kuntz decided to use his “discretion” to allow Pereira to be escorted by two armed correctional officers to Placerville where the wedding took place.
Kuntz said Pereira was only allowed to walk his sister down the aisle and was then brought directly back to jail.
“A lot of people at that wedding said, ‘Thank you very much, you’ve done a great thing,’” Kuntz said. “They were very appreciative.”
Kuntz said he made sure taxpayer dollars would not be used to pay for the correctional officers’ time spent supervising Pereira on the short excursion.
After the wedding, Kuntz was contacted by County Counsel Janis Elliot who informed him he did not have the authority to allow Pereira to attend the wedding. He should have obtained a court order.
According to Section 4004 of the California Penal Code, “A prisoner committed to the county jail for examination, or upon conviction for a public offense, must be actually confined in the jail until legally discharged.”
“… If the prisoner is permitted to go at large out of the jail, except by virtue of a legal order or process, it is an escape,” according to Section 4004.
The section goes on to state if a court finds good cause for the removal of the prisoner in custody of the sheriff, a legal order can be made.
According to Section 4011.5, whenever it appears to a sheriff or jailer that a prisoner in a county jail under his charge is in need of immediate medical or hospital care that cannot be provided by the jail, the sheriff may authorize the immediate removal of the prisoner under guard to a hospital without first obtaining a court order.
Kuntz said the laws regarding the sheriff’s discretion are confusing but it boils down to this:
“In emergencies, I have more discretion than in non-emergencies,” he said. “Anything non-emergency would have to be by a court order, but again in past practices, it has been the discretion of the sheriff.”
Requests to speak about this legal issue with Superior Court Judges John E. Martin and Douglas V. Mewhinney were denied. The Enterprise was referred to county counsel.
The Enterprise left a message for Elliot which was not returned by press time Thursday. Elliot declined to meet with the Enterprise during a visit to her office Thursday morning. She told a staff member to inform the Enterprise she had nothing to say due to “attorney-client privilege.”
Kuntz said he thought long and hard before making the decision to allow Pereira to attend the wedding.
“I was going by past practice on my discretion to (temporarily) release people from jail,” Kuntz said. “Once I looked into it, I realized I didn’t have as much discretion as I thought I had.”
Kuntz said it’s never going to happen again. After reviewing the California Penal Code with the assistance of Elliot, Kuntz rewrote the Sheriff’s Office policy on temporary inmate releases.
In the past, Calaveras County sheriffs have released inmates on a somewhat regular basis, Kuntz said, at times without armed guards.
“Past administrations have let people out for two-or-three days, gave them a pass and told them to come back,” Kuntz said. “I never did that. I had a correctional officer with them. I never, ever just let them go. I would never do that.”
Since taking office, Kuntz said he has allowed two inmates to attend funerals and one to attend a wedding.
Contact Joel Metzger at email@example.com