Bail reform exemption aided release of Syracuse man accused of rape, police say

The department said anger shouldn’t be directed at judge who released him
Published: Sep. 15, 2022 at 12:18 PM EDT
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JOHNSON CITY (WBNG) -- The Johnson City Police Department clarified why a man accused of rape in the village was released without bail being set.

On Sept. 10, the village arrested 26-year-old Antonio N. Bethune of Syracuse for rape in the first degree after officers responded to a report of a sexual assault in the village. The department noted that he was released from custody, without bail being set, by Town of Lisle Judge Steven G. Tillotson.

On Thursday, the department said in a Facebook post that it understands the public’s frustration but that anger should not be directed at Judge Tillotson.

Police said Bethune’s release was a result of bail reform restrictions, which it was made aware of by an unnamed New York State Supreme Court Judge.

“Judge Tillotson [had] little choice but to release the suspect without bail,” the department said on its Facebook page. “While on its face rape [in the] 1st is listed as a charge for which bail can be set, it seems that there are very limited circumstances under which that exemption may be applied.”

The department said it will have more information regarding the case after it holds discussions with the courts.

“In the meantime, we ask that all concerned citizens reserve passing judgment or directing their frustrations towards Judge Tillotson,” the department requested.

The Facebook post noted that the department understands the community’s frustration with the incident, but asked the public to be patient and to wait for more details.

“We are all rightfully outraged that so many violent criminals have simply been allowed to walk out the door since the passing of the bail reform legislation,” it said.

Later Thursday, the Johnson Police Department further elaborated their explanation regarding the incident in relation to bail reform. It said:

As a follow-up to our last update, while Rape 1st is a qualifying offense for which bail can be set, a judge does not have cart blanche authority to set bail. Under bail reform laws, a judge cannot consider the seriousness of a particular crime or the specific danger that a defendant poses to society as factors that would allow them to set bail. Judges are only allowed to consider whether or not there is evidence to support that a particular defendant is a flight risk. To further complicate the issue, the bail reform act provided additional taxpayer funding to provide for a public defender to be present at every arraignment to represent the defendant but provided no additional funding for a district attorney to be present to represent the community’s interest in remanding violent criminals to jail. So while bail may be possible in these cases, bail reform makes it as difficult as possible for law enforcement and the judiciary to get these violent criminals off of the street. We believe that it is part of our duty to let you know how these laws impact you, as well as our ability to help keep you safe.

The New York State Legislature passed bail reform in 2019. The law went into effect in January 2020 and has since been at the center of controversy.