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Released Early Due To Coronavirus: Former Weld County Inmate Now Accused Of Strangulation

WINDSOR, Colo. (CBS4) – A former Weld County Jail inmate, who was released early from a two year sentence due to COVID-19 concerns, is now accused of attacking and strangling someone one month after his release. The Windsor Police Department is now searching for Christopher A. Vecchiarelli, 36, after they say he attacked a woman, leaving bruises in several places and fracturing her arm.

Christopher Vecchiarelli (credit: Weld County)

According to court records obtained by CBS4, Vecchiarelli was released from the Weld County Jail on April 7, 2020 following his attorney's accusations that incarceration in Weld County was increasing "risks and lethality of COVID-19." Vecchiarelli only served 48 days in jail before being released early at the order of County Judge Michele Lynn Meyer, and later allegedly attacking the woman.

In an objection filed by the office of Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke, they warned the judge that Vecchiarelli "is attempting to leverage this undeniably serious public health crisis into a new avenue down which the Defendant may attempt to elude the consequences of his actions." The office went on to write, "While COVID-19 has sown disorder in all aspects of life, the appropriate response to the Defendant's request is not to release him from custody – either as a stay of execution on the remainder of his jail sentence or to otherwise commute the proper and just jail sentence."

Rourke's office also wrote, "This Defendant presents a high degree of risk not only to the community…with the behaviors he continues to exhibit."

Vecchiarelli was originally booked in the Weld County Jail on Feb. 20, 2020 after being found guilty of a DUI case which took place in 2018. Court records show Vecchiarelli was arrested on Sept. 2, 2018 for driving a motorcycle while impaired, with a minor riding without a helmet. He was sentenced to two years in jail for the DUI and child abuse case, with the second year being deferred and dismissed upon completion of a three year probation. Court documents show Vecchiarelli was originally to serve at least 60 days "straight time," before qualifying for a work release program.

weld county jail
Weld County Jail (credit: CBS)

In an official court testimony filed in April of 2020 Vecchiarelli testified against Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams, and the sheriff's office, in an ACLU lawsuit. In a five-page written statement, Vecchiarelli accused Sheriff Reams of doing "absolutely nothing to protect inmates from the spread of the coronavirus." Vecchiarelli accused the staff at the Weld County Jail of not providing a living environment which met the standards of social distancing by the CDC.

"All inmates in a pod still intermingled within feet of each other," Vecchiarelli wrote. "There were eight inmates total in a 10-foot by 15-foot cell. It was impossible to maintain a distance of six feet from other inmates."

Vecchiarelli, who obtained trustee status during his brief stint in the jail, also accused the jail of not providing sanitary environments for the food preparation teams in the jail. He wrote, in part, "There were a number of inmates who were working in the kitchen with me, up until I left in April, that were sick and actively displaying symptoms of coronavirus."

Vecchiarelli's defense team argued the court had "a moral responsibility and a duty to reconsider a previously-imposed jail/work release sentence where, as here, a significant, unanticipated health crisis fundamentally altered the conditions under which a person is serving their sentence."

RELATED: 'Doing As Best We Can': Weld County Sheriff Reveals Steps To Keep Inmates Safe

Public Defender Gacen Short also cited Colorado Gov. Jared Polis' call-to-action for jail and prison facilities to release some inmates during the COVID-19 response.

The first motion for Vecchiarelli's release was denied by the court. The second was successful, in part.

(credit: Weld County)

Because of COVID-19, and in an effort to limit the population within the work release program, Judge Meyer granted Vecchiarelli's release on April 7.

"The Court orders that the defendant be released today and report for work release out of custody on 6/24/20 at 9 a.m. to serve the remainder of his sentence. Additionally, the Court orders that the defendant contact the probation department within 48 hours of his release and that he be placed on a SCRAM unit (electronic monitoring) until he reports for work release in June. The Court denies all other requests to modify or reduce the original sentence that was imposed," Meyer wrote in her finding, also citing the closure of the work release program.

On May 15, 2020, 48 days later, the Windsor Police Department responded to a report of a cold assault. The victim, who CBS4 has chosen not to identify, was convinced by a friend to report an alleged attack which took place two days prior. Law enforcement says the victim initially didn't want to report the attack. Police responded, where the victim accused the suspect of strangling her.

According to law enforcement, the victim also sustained a fractured arm. Bruising was seen on her neck, arms, back and one leg. She had already been seen by an area hospital.

According to police, Vecchiarelli is the suspect linked to the attack. As noted by the Weld County Sheriff's Office, the actions Vecchiarelli is accused of would be a direct violation of his probation. A warrant for his arrest from Windsor Police is not yet active, as of the publishing of this article.

CBS4 reached out to the public defender who represented Vecchiarelli, and advocated for his release due to COVID-19 concerns. The request for comment hasn't been returned.

CBS4 also contacted the ACLU, who facilitated Vecchiarelli's testimony in the case against Reams. Lawyer Mark Goldstein told CBS4, via phone, Vecchiarelli's release wasn't purely based off of COVID-19. Though, he did say the release could indirectly be sourced back to COVID-19's impact on the work release program.

The ACLU's suit against Reams ended in an injunction issued by a judge, where the judge ordered Reams to create further protections for medically susceptible inmates. Reeams complied and segregated those inmates in a pod of their own, to distance them from the general population. He also increased screening measures, provided masks to staff and inmates and limited visitation from third parties.

The District Attorney's office provided CBS4 the following statement:

"From the beginning of this pandemic, we've said that public safety and victim safety will remain at the top of our priority list. It's extremely frustrating to see that convicted criminals are being released back into our community, just to immediately re-offend, putting our community at risk. There ought to be COVID related policies that put public safety first. Not only is this reversing the hard work of law enforcement and prosecutors, but it's a complete slap in the face and extremely disheartening to victims and their families who have already suffered a great deal emotionally and mentally."

CBS4 will update this story with statements from the ACLU and others when they are obtained.

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