A federal judge yesterday ordered the release of a Dorchester drug dealer with two years left on his sentence, because of the potential risks he faces as an older man with both high blood pressure and diabetes in a crammed Brooklyn prison.
But another judge denied a request from a younger local leader of the violent MS-13 gang, saying he had no major underlying health issues and was too unrepentant to be allowed out with more than ten years left on his sentence.
The rulings were among numerous Covid-19 release decisions issued over the past week by judges in US District Court in Boston. In general, judges are refusing to release either inmates or people awaiting trial simply because of the current pandemic - to stand a chance, they're going to have to show they have some underlying conditions that would make them particularly vulnerable to Covid-19 infection - age, asthma, diabetes or, in one case, being pregnant. And even then, they have to show why the particular facility they're housed in puts them more at risk than others and why they wouldn't prove to be an immediate menace to society should they be released.
Among those set for release this week is James Ramirez, formerly a resident of Everett Street in Dorchester, who was convicted in February of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute cocaine and 400 grams or more of fentanyl and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
Ramirez, along with a co-defendant, shipped what federal investigators said was a large amount of drugs from Boston to Cape Cod. He was given a 5 1/2-year sentence in February - with credit for time served awaiting sentencing, he was facing two more years in prison.
In a request for early release, Ramrez's lawyer, Stylianus Sinnis, wrote that Ramirez is 57, has diabetes and hypertension and currently is housed at the federal Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, an overcrowded facility with a Covid-19 outbreak in the heart of a city with more cases than anywhere else. Ramirez submitted proof a friend would let him live with her, that pre-sentencing letters from family and friends showed he had a strong support network to keep him on the right path this time
Sinnis described in particular conditions inside the prison:
Windows in the units do not open. Incarcerated people cannot go outside. People confined at MDC must frequently share or touch objects used by others. Toilets, sinks, and showers are shared, without disinfection between each use. Phones and computer terminals are all shared by numerous people, without disinfection between each use. Inmates are responsible for sanitizing the housing unit common areas, and frequently lack adequate cleaning supplies to do so. Food preparation (by inmates) and service (by inmates) is communal with little opportunity for surface disinfection. Meals are eaten together in large groups.
Judge William Young, after concluding Sinnis showed "extraordinary and compelling reasons" for Ramirez's early release, agreed to free Ramirez on May 7 - after he spends two weeks in quarantine to protect the friend who has agreed to take him in.
In contrast, Judge F. Dennis Saylor rejected a similar request from convicted gang leader Edward Guzman, despite his type-II diabetes and what he says was a prison-acquired case of tuberculosis.
Guzman was sentenced in 2018 to 16 years in prison for being a leader of MS-13's Eastside Loco Salvatrucha local gang, during which he helped encourage the murder of a teenager in East Boston.
Saylor, who oversaw the trials and plea deals of several dozen MS-13 members in recent years, said that Covid-19 aside, reducing Guzman's sentence would require evidence that Guzman would not be a risk to public safety, and the evidence was simply too strong that was far from the case, no matter how well behaved he has been in prison so far:
The evidence elicited at trial indicated that defendant was a member of MS-13 and the second-in-command of his local chapter or "clique"; that he encouraged his clique members to violently assault rival gang members with knives and firearms; that he acted as an accessory after the fact to an attempted murder on at least one occasion; that he collected dues from members, in part to pay for illegal firearms; and that he recruited and initiated young members to MS-13 after they had committed the qualifying acts of violence to gain membership, including in at least one case a murder. There was no evidence that he seriously attempted to leave the gang at any point.
Saylor acknowledged that diabetes is one of the underlying medical conditions the CDC might cause particularly severe complications for somebody infected with the Covid-19 virus, but explained why, in Guzman's case, that is not a required "exceptional reason" for changing his sentence sentence:
To date, it appears that only one staff member, and no inmates, at defendant’s facility, FCI Allenwood, have become infected with COVID-19, and the Bureau of Prisons has instituted precautionary measures to prevent transmission. ... While he does suffer from an underlying condition, he appears to be managing his diabetes effectively with medication - at least as of the writing of the Pre-Sentencing Memorandum in November 2018, which is the most recent documentation of his medical condition provided by defendant. At 34 years old, he is not in the high-risk age category for severe illness. And unlike inmates who become eligible for early release or home confinement near the end of a lengthy sentence, he has served a fraction of his 192-month sentence. In sum, defendant has not shown that his specific medical conditions and prison conditions create such a high risk of serious illness that it would qualify as an "exceptional reason" for release.