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Suspect Described As 'Menace To Society' On Run Due To NY Bail Reform Law

Romell Nellis
Romell Nellis Photo Credit: Nassau County Police

Poll
Do You Support The New Bail Reform Laws?
Final Results Voting Closed

Do You Support The New Bail Reform Laws?

  • Yes.
    5%
  • No.
    92%
  • To be determined.
    3%

An alleged two-time bank robber is on the run after being released under New York’s new bail reform laws.

Romell Nellis, a homeless man on Long Island, is accused of robbing Chase Bank in Valley Stream and Roslyn Savings Bank in West Hempstead within two weeks in December last year, Nassau County Police said. He was arrested on Thursday, Jan. 9.

Following his arrest, Nassau County Judge David McAndrews admitted that Nellis wasn’t charged with a “bondable or bail offense,” according to reports, but held him anyway, stating that he believed him to be a “menace to society.”

Nellis reportedly has a history with drugs, with multiple arrests for sales and possession. A higher-level judge later reversed McAndrews’ order and Nellis was released with an ankle monitor.

After being released, Nellis reportedly cut off the ankle monitor and is now on the run.

Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder told the New York Post, "he's out there, somewhere, able to commit another crime. It's insane when you think who we're letting out of jail. It has nothing to do with justice reform. We're not protecting the victims, and we've swung the pendulum way too far." 

As of Wednesday, Jan. 1, thousands of inmates throughout the state were put back on the streets due to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s bail reform legislation, which marked the end of cash bail for misdemeanor and non-violent felony offenders that were previously incarcerated.

Previously, prosecutors would make the determination whether to make a bail recommendation or have a suspect released, and a judge would make a determination. Under the new law, any non-violent felony offender is released without bail.

“Judges used to have some discretion on whether or not an individual should be held on bail,” Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon, Jr. said. “Now, it is black and white - no bail for these crimes, regardless of the impact to the community. The offender will be given a court date and told to come back for court.”

Toulon noted that “inmates often detox upon entering (jails), coming off of drugs and alcohol in a safe environment. They can then begin addiction programs, therapy programs, high school equivalency classes, specialized youth, and elderly housing areas, and more. If these offenders are not remanded by the courts, the chances of them entering a program are very slim.”

The sheriff is calling on elected officials to repeal the bail reform legislation as soon as possible.

“As we look at the effects of the ‘official’ enactment of bail reform, there are clearly serious issues with this state law,” Toulon said. “Judges must have the discretion to determine bail based on a criminal defendant’s likelihood to re-offend and cause further pain to his or her victims and the public at large. The New York State Legislature should amend or repeal bail reform now.”

Under the new legislation, the following have been deemed “non-violent:"

  • Third-degree assault;
  • Aggravated vehicular assault;
  • Aggravated assault upon a person under the age of 11;
  • Criminally negligent homicide;
  • Aggravated vehicular homicide;
  • Second-degree manslaughter;
  • Unlawful imprisonment;
  • First-degree coercion;
  • Third and fourth-degree arson;
  • First-degree grand larceny;
  • Criminal possession of a weapon on school grounds or criminal possession of a firearm;
  • Some drug offenses involving the use of children;
  • Promoting an obscene sexual performance by a child;
  • Possessing an obscene sexual performance by a child, and;
  • Promoting a sexual performance by a child.

The reform has come under fire from both the community, some law enforcement agencies, and elected officials, who believe that Cuomo should revisit the law for possible changes in the legislation.

According to a new Siena poll, 49 percent of New York State voters say the new policy is “bad” for New York compared to 37 percent who say it’s “good.” Last April, 55 percent of New Yorkers backed the law.

“Certainly, all the attention this new law has gotten across the state has had an impact with voters and it is clear that a sizable number of New Yorkers, who were optimistic that the new bail law would be good for the state, now believe the law is bad for New York,” Siena pollster Steven Greenberg said.

“The Siena Poll has made it clear that much work remains needed to broadly educate the public on the benefits of pretrial reforms, and that is exactly what New Yorkers United for Justice will continue to do for the long haul, NYUJJ Chief Strategist Khalil Cumberbatch said in defending the reform.

“Unfortunately, months of fearmongering and misinformation have had an effect, as defenders of a broken status quo commit to frightening New Yorkers instead of coming together to make sure much-needed reforms are working as intended. And the new system can work: look no further than Kings County, in which DA Gonzalez eliminated cash bail for misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies three years ago - and violent crime is down 18 percent. We don’t have to choose between fairness and safety.”

Despite the opposition, many have come forward in support of the new legislation, citing projections that jail populations could decrease statewide by as much as 40 percent.

Advocates for anti-bail legislation noted that pretrial detention increases the likelihood that a person will be rearrested, because “it worsens the root drivers of harm and crime: poverty, trauma, housing instability, unmet mental health needs, and untreated substance use disorders. Even holding someone pretrial for )two or three) days can increase the likelihood that certain defendants will commit new crimes before trial.”

Nate Khader, the Executive Director of the WESPAC Foundation noted that, "the new reforms allow us to finally move beyond an unequal and racist system of justice that locked up countless innocent people who were too poor to pay bail.

“Despite the continued fear-mongering, these changes go hand in hand with making our communities safer. For too long we've wasted our money on filling jail beds rather than making common-sense investments in our communities that will actually address the root drivers of crime and violence, and save taxpayer dollars in the long-run. We need to keep moving forward, not backward."

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