Detention Center

Inmate laborers in B Pod relax on at the Gallatin County Detention Center in 2018.

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Gallatin County Justice of the Peace Rick West said he released or lowered bail for three of the five people he saw in court on Monday who were arrested over the weekend.

Of the people he released, West said, one person was charged with misdemeanor criminal trespass to property, another was charged for having meth.

The third man was charged with partner or family member assault, obstructing a peace officer and criminal mischief. West said he required that man to be so many feet away from the alleged victim and not drink.

West was adhering to a letter from Montana Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike McGrath that asked judges to release “as many prisoners as you are able” over fear of spreading the coronavirus.

McGrath wrote there does not appear to be an outbreak of the virus in any of Montana’s correctional facilities.

“However, it is only a matter of time,” he said. “Due to the confines of these facilities, it will be virtually impossible to contain the spread of the virus.”

He said to continue presiding over hearings using video and other remote technology to curtail the risk of exposure and transmission of the virus.

Judge West said he saw the letter early Monday morning.

“As this week progresses, we’ll start looking into the jail roster and seeing what we could do there,” West said.

Local officials are trying to comply with McGrath’s letter.

Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin said he provided the county attorney’s office with a roster of inmates at the jail with nonviolent misdemeanors. There were 12.

Gootkin said he isn’t making any recommendations in regards to the letter.

“Really it’s up to the county and city attorneys, and justices of the peace and the city court judges to make those decisions,” Gootkin said.

County Attorney Marty Lambert said of those 12, he only has authority over three. The rest were cases in city court.

“I am only responsible for the stuff that I’m responsible for,” Lambert said.

He said he has started the process to release two inmates and would oppose releasing the third person.

“Of course, every day going forward we’re going to be watching and doing what we can — being mindful of public safety and enforcing court orders. But taking that all into account, we will do what we can to keep the jail population down,” Lambert said.

He said he is waiting to see if the public defender’s office or defense attorneys make recommendations for any of their clients to be released.

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Freddy Monares can be reached at fmonares@dailychronicle.com or at 406-582-2630.