FORT EDWARD — A three-time felon from New York City who was arrested on the state’s weightiest drug charge when he was caught with a kilo of cocaine in Fort Ann late last year was released from Washington County Jail on Friday.
Washington County District Attorney Tony Jordan called it “absurd” that Queens resident Azeez A. Harris was let out on his own recognizance because the state’s toughest drug charge no longer qualifies for bail under state Criminal Procedure Law. It is one of a number of quirks of new state bail laws that have police, prosecutors, judges and victims advocates irate.
Harris was arrested Nov. 5 after state troopers spotted him driving erratically on Route 4. Officers smelled marijuana, and found a half-pound of pot to go with 988 grams of cocaine. Jordan said the cocaine, nearly two pounds of the drug, was mixed with the potent opioid Fentanyl.
It was believed to be the largest cocaine seizure in the county since a 1980s investigation that broke up a large-scale cocaine ring in the Whitehall area.
Harris, 29, has pleaded not guilty to felony first-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance and lesser charges, and had been held on $200,000 cash bail or $500,000 bail bond.
Then came Jan. 1, when state laws dramatically changed when bail can be set on those accused of crimes. Dozens of serious felonies, including some homicide, burglary and major drug charges, no longer qualify for bail.
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Jordan said there was little his office could do to have bail set in Harris’ case, and Washington County Judge Kelly McKeighan had no choice but to release Harris on his own recognizance despite the fact he faces up to 24 years in state prison, has not ties to the county or region and is considered a flight risk.
“This guy is in the business of feeding our drug epidemic,” Jordan said. “To take away the discretion to set bail from judges in a case like this is absurd.”
Harris is due back in court on Feb. 17.
On Monday, McKeighan will hold a bail hearing for a four-time felon from New York City who skipped bail in 2018 on multiple felony charges after a 100 mph chase.
Jeremy K. Salmon, 33, of Brooklyn, faces felony counts of criminal possession of a forged instrument and aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle, misdemeanor reckless endangerment, criminal trespass and unlawfully fleeing a police officer and was issued numerous traffic tickets after a May 19 chase on Route 4. He had a fake driver’s license, according to State Police.
Salmon was found to be in New York City’s Riker’s Island Jail late last year, and was released with hundreds of other prisoners in late December as new bail statutes took effect. State Police picked him up there on a warrant filed in Washington County
Salmon’s case is different than Harris’ though, in that he has already missed court numerous times, so there will be an option to set bail, Jordan explained.
Don Lehman covers police and court matters, Warren County government and the outdoors. He can be reached at 518-742-3224 or firstname.lastname@example.org