FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — To prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the Washington County Jail, administrators took steps to reduce overcrowding during the pandemic, including thinning out the number of people booked. These steps could’ve allowed the woman who ran over and killed Pea Ridge Officer Kevin Apple to remain on the streets, according to Washington County’s Prosecuting Attorney.
Shawna Cash, 22, of Pine Bluff, was denied bond this week after she was arrested alongside Elijah Andazola, 18, of Bella Vista. Video footage shows she was the driver of the vehicle that ran over and killed Apple last week. She had multiple pending cases and an outstanding failure to appear, and procedural changes allowed her to get a “roadside release” instead of being booked during a previous traffic stop, said Matt Durrett, Washington County’s Prosecuting Attorney.
“She was released under my name,” Durrett said. “At the end of the day, the system we’d set up didn’t work. It failed.”
Cash had a previous arrest record filled with nonviolent charges like theft and failure to appear. Durrett said it’s impossible to know if Cash being booked at an earlier date would’ve ultimately saved Apple’s life, but the “what if” questions have haunted him since the officer’s death.
“What if we had done a better job and been more thorough on getting officers more information on how many times that person had been arrested before?” Durrett said.
Matt Bender is a University of Arkansas law professor and former public defender in Washington County. He said Apple’s death is a tragedy in every sense.
“No officer should be killed in the line of duty,” Bender said.
Bender said he thinks it’s unfair to suggest safety measures taken to reduce the inmate population directly played a role in Apple’s death. He said numbers suggest there’s no systemic problem leading to officers being killed by the release of nonviolent people.
Bender said Cash is the singular person at fault if she’s charged, and the number of successes established by the reforms outweighs the negatives.
“While this person may have been released during COVID, there were a lot of people released during COVID that didn’t commit any crimes,” Bender said. “It’s really important for people to have their freedom pre-trial.”
Durrett said Apple’s death will spark changes in the criminal justice system, though he still thinks non-violent pre-trial detainees will be targeted for release, particularly those with low incomes.
“It’s going to cause us to certainly be more cautious on who we’re releasing,” Durrett said.