A federal judge on Thursday rejected Ross Farca’s request to be released from an East Bay jail because of the coronavirus pandemic.
In arguments before Magistrate Judge Sallie Kim, conducted over the phone, federal assistant public defender Joyce Leavitt said that concerns about the novel coronavirus and a handful of other considerations warranted the release of the 24-year-old Concord man, who is in custody facing four felony charges after allegedly threatening to massacre Jews on a gaming website and assembling an illegal weapon.
“It’s clear and undisputed [Santa Rita Jail] is not well equipped to handle Covid-19. It’s why many jails are decreasing the number of people and are looking to reduce their population, ” Leavitt said during the hearing, with about 10 people listening in, including representatives of the Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish Community Relations Council.
Like detention centers around the country, Santa Rita Jail — where Farca is housed in Alameda County along with about 2,600 other inmates — is making efforts to reduce the risk of a coronavirus outbreak. Last month officials announced plans to release hundreds of pretrial inmates accused of nonviolent crimes. In-person visits have been suspended.
Leavitt said that Farca, who shares a cell and a bathroom at the Dublin facility, is “particularly vulnerable” to the novel coronavirus. He suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder and misophonia — a heightened emotional sensitivity to sound — that is triggered when he hears running water, making it a challenge to follow CDC-recommended guidelines on handwashing, according to Leavitt. The condition “has always made it difficult for him to maintain his hygiene,” she said.
During the hearing, a bleak portrait emerged of Farca’s life in jail, where he has been since November. His lawyer said he has been targeted and “picked on” by other inmates, in part because of his hygiene; Leavitt said her client was punched twice and suffered a black eye and “chipped teeth.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kimberly Hopkins said she had not heard about Farca getting into a fight but was aware that he had been placed into enhanced custody for his own protection.
Hopkins also refuted Leavitt’s claim that Farca was particularly vulnerable to infection from the coronavirus — citing his young age and the absence of any underlying health condition. She said Santa Rita Jail was equipped to provide medical care.
According to California’s Covid-19 prison patient tracker, at least 27 employees and eight prisoners tested positive for the virus across the state prison system as of April 1, although only 226 prisoners had been tested. Statistics for county jails were not immediately available.
In arguing for Farca’s release, Leavitt pointed to an agreement by her client’s father, Tibi Farca, to serve as his custodian — something he previously said he would not do. The father lives in Woodland, about 15 miles outside Sacramento.
Hopkins’ primary argument repeated during the 25-minute hearing was that Farca still posed a danger to the community. The defense attorney’s plan to release him into the custody of his father, who works night shifts as a veterinary technician, was not nearly sufficient to protect the public, the prosecutor maintained.
“It’s great that the father says he will report the defendant to law enforcement if he violates” the terms of his release, Hopkins said. “But he can’t report what the defendant hides from him.”
She pointed to reports that while out on bail last year, and against court orders, Farca exchanged messages with a man referred to by prosecutors as a “potential mass shooter” via an encrypted messaging app. That demonstrated an ability to evade law enforcement, she said.
After hearing both arguments, Kim sided quickly with the prosecution, ordering Farca to remain in custody for the foreseeable future.
“I appreciate that Mr. Tibi Farca is willing to be a custodian. But I am concerned about the fact that he will not be in the house all day long, every single day,” she said. “Mr. Ross Farca would nonetheless pose a risk, a danger to the community, even with the father as a custodian, even under the current circumstances.
“I don’t think the changed circumstances have changed the danger to the community,” she added.
The next hearing is scheduled for June 5 at 9:30 a.m. in Oakland.