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Man with drug crimes history accused of murdering priest

Police officers are facing public scrutiny after they may have inadvertently released a man who ended up attacking a local priest. The defendant in the case, a 43-year-old man from Humboldt County, had been accused of drug crimes in the past, though he did not have a history of assault charges or other violent crimes. Officers in the case say they had no choice but to release the man, as he was not eligible for an ongoing psychiatric hold that may have kept him out of the community for a 72-hour period.

Authorities say that the defendant was found at a church at about 2 a.m. on New Year's Day, when a security guard located him in the bathroom of the facility's fellowship hall. The guard notified police, who found the man in front of the church. He was released without being taken into custody. At 3:30 a.m., the man was again seen outside the church with a wooden stake in his hand. The priest was found dead hours later, when a churchgoer went searching for him after he did not appear at morning mass. The priest reportedly lived in the church rectory, which is located near the worship facilities.

The defendant has surrendered peaceably, and his is awaiting arraignment while being held on a $1 million bail.

Officers in the case are struggling with the impact of their decision to allow the man to go free after they first noticed him causing minor disturbances at the church. The officers at the scene said the man did not appear to be dangerous to himself or the public, and he also seemed capable of caring for himself. California law enforcement officials prioritize both individual rights and public safety, but balancing those demands can sometimes be difficult.

The criminal defendant in this case was not taken into custody because officers believed that he did not warrant an involuntary psychiatric hold. That information may be useful in pending legal proceedings, as the man is facing murder charges. Individuals who are mounting criminal defense efforts against charges for violent crimes may benefit from the assistance of a criminal defense attorney, who can help them learn about other rights that may have been violated by officers' intervention.

Source: San Jose Mercury News, "Police: No reason to hold man before priest killed" Jeff Barnard and Tami Abdollah, Jan. 02, 2014

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