BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — A murder manhunt and an overnight shooting shed light on a controversial policy that lets many convicted felons back out onto the streets before their full sentences are served. Police are looking for one suspected murderer and have arrested another man for a shooting that wounded three people, including an unborn baby. All were released from prison early. The cases are merely two of dozens local law enforcement says are linked to early releases under AB 109, a law meant to ease overcrowding in state prisons.
Bakersfield Police were called to the Plaza Motel on Union Avenue Thursday morning at about 2:00 for a report of a shooting. When they arrived, they found a man and a pregnant woman suffering from gunshot wounds.
“Both victims were transported to an area where they are expected to survive their injuries, including the unborn child,” said Sgt. Robert Pair of the Bakersfield Police Dept. “The investigation identified a suspect: Brian Suell, 41, of Bakersfield. He was located, taken into custody without incident for charges related to the shooting.”
This wasn’t Suell’s first arrest. Police say Suell was previously released for other crimes under Assembly Bill 109, the Public Safety Realignment Act. Meanwhile, police are looking for 24-year-old Alberto Noriega. He’s wanted for shooting a man to death on Coventry Drive in South Bakersfield on Jan. 9. Police say it all goes back to AB109.
“It’s a piece of legislation that that allows you to be eligible for early release,” said Sgt. Pair.
Former Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill into law in 2011 after the supreme court said California’s overcrowded prisons exposed prisoners to ‘cruel and unusual punishment,’ violating the 8th amendment.
“There are certain sexual assault charges, certain aggravated assault charges that all fall under someone’s ability to be released early as a non-violent offender,” said Sgt. Pair.
Instead of going to state prison, people convicted of those crimes are sent to county jail, supervised release, or a combination of the two. Sgt. Pair says nearly a quarter of people arrested for homicides last year were released early under AB 109.
“That is an entirely preventable number,” said Sgt. Pair.
Bakersfield police arrested 36-year-old Jason Rodriguez Wednesday for sexual assault. Rodriguez was also previously released under AB 109.
17 News tried to reach District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer for this story, but she declined comment. She sits on a committee of local leaders who advise the board of supervisors on how to implement AB 109 in Kern County.