It was 11:30 a.m. on Feb. 2, about 12 hours after his early release from Sacramento County jail, when Kevin Eugene Peterson attempted to sexually assault a counselor at Sacramento Loaves and Fishes.
Authorities released Peterson from the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Facility 16 days earlier than his sentence dictated. He was one of many in the first batch of prisoners to be released early under new California state law SBX3 18.
Signed by Gov. Schwarzenegger in Sept. 2009, the law shortens prison sentences for low-level offenders to reduce overcrowding in prisons, aiming to trim the state’s budget deficit.
Officer Konrad Vonschoech, public information officer of the Sacramento Police Department, said the assault took place as Peterson received counseling from an employee at the homeless services organization, Loaves and Fishes. The situation turned ugly when Peterson approached the door.
“The suspect allegedly locked the door, attacked the female counselor and attempted to sexually assault her,” Vonschoech said.
Coworkers subsequently heard the victim’s screams and calls for help, at which point they unlocked the door from the outside.
Sacramento Police Department’s Sgt. Leone said that Peterson immediately desisted and walked outside as soon as employees entered the room. Police arrived on the scene later.
Officer Vonschoech declined to expound on how exactly the coworkers opened the locked door.
Joan Burke, director of advocacy at Loaves and Fishes, was loath to shed new light on the incident, citing last week’s Sacramento Bee article as being the full extent to which she was willing to reveal information.
“[It was an] attempted sexual assault of one of our staff members,” she said. “We’re not giving out any [more] details.”
Peterson was originally serving a four-month sentence for a probation violation after fulfilling a one-year sentence starting in 2008 on charges of assault with a deadly weapon, according to the Sacramento Bee.
Approximately 190 inmates had their sentences shortened under the new law and were released between Tuesday and Friday of last week. This compares to the average 100 to 150 inmates that the Rio Cosumnes facility, the primary facility for sentenced inmates, releases within a regular week of activity.
The prison population reduction law recalculates sentences under a new formula.
Inmates traditionally accumulate good-time credits while in jail through good behavior, but this only pertains to low-level offenders. They may see their sentence reduced by one-third its original length. The new state law, however, introduces a new method of calculating good-time credits of prisoners as a means of expediting inmates’ sentences.
“The law changes the way in which good-time [credits are] calculated for those inmates that do not have a prior conviction or current commitment that would disqualify them,” said Chief Deputy James Lewis of the Sacramento Sheriff’s Department in an e-mail interview. “Crimes that disqualify the inmate from receiving the new time computation are considered ‘serious felonies’.”
Under the new law, good-time credits can reduce an inmate’s sentence up to 50 percent.
“A 120 day sentence would result in 60 days of incarceration,” Lewis said.
For Davis, the situation is unlikely to create an unsafe environment as the inmates eligible for sentence reductions are those incarcerated for low-level crimes.
“It will probably make more work for us,” said Davis Police Department public information officer Lt. Tom Waltz. “The odds are these individuals will re-offend, committing their petty crimes, which we will still have to address.”
A government employee, who asked not to be identified on account of the sensitivity of the issue, said the Peterson case had been highly controversial for those involved, claiming that releasing the inmate 16 days later would not have changed much.
“[Peterson] had a violent history and a history of mental illness,” the employee said. “They make [these] decisions at the sheriff’s office. I don’t know what was going on in their minds. We don’t even know if [Peterson] was eligible for release under the bill [because] there is nothing in the bill that says it should be applied retroactively.”
The employee believed the sheriff’s department may have overstepped its boundaries.
YARA ELMJOUIE can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.