Inmate commits murder after being released from jail to prevent spread of coronavirus, sheriff says

Joseph Williams, 26, initially arrested March 13 on drug charge

Joseph Williams, 26, is accused of committing a homicide in Tampa following his release from jail amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office)

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. – A Florida inmate committed a homicide March 20 in Tampa, a day after he was released from jail in an effort to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister said.

"There is no question Joseph Williams took advantage of this health emergency to commit crimes while he was out of jail awaiting resolution of a low-level, non-violent offense,” Chronister said in a statement. “As a result, I call on the State Attorney to prosecute this defendant to the fullest extent of the law. Every murder, every violent crime, especially those involving a gun, is a sickening example of the worst in our community, especially at a time when our community is working relentlessly to fight against the spread of this deadly COVID-19.”

The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office arrested Williams, 26, for a homicide that occurred on the 8000 block of Ash Avenue. According to police, deputies responded at 10:40 p.m. on March 20 that night to several 911 calls about gunshots fired in the area. A man was pronounced dead at the scene.

Authorities said Williams, who was previously convicted of two felony offenses, including burglary in 2012 and being a felon in possession of a firearm in 2018, is now being held without bond. He is facing a second-degree murder charge along with resisting an officer with violence, felon in possession of a firearm, possession of heroin and possession of drug paraphernalia.

He had previously been booked into the Orient Road Jail on March 13 for possession of heroin (less than four grams), a third-degree felony, and possession of drug paraphernalia, a first-degree misdemeanor.

Authorities said Williams was one of more than 100 inmates released from custody March 19 until trial due to an administrative order.

He was initially issued a $2,500 bond for the drug charges and was eligible for release prior to the administrative order.

“Judges, prosecutors, and Sheriffs around the country are facing difficult decisions during this health crisis with respect to balancing public health and public safety,” Chronister said. “Sheriffs in Florida and throughout our country have released non-violent, low-level offenders to protect our deputies and the jail population from an outbreak. Our commitment as an agency is to keep this community safe and enforce the law.”

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