The coronavirus pandemic has forced Baker County Sheriff Travis Ash and other administrators at the County Jail to make difficult decisions since March.

Ash, along with Lt. Ben Wray, who supervises the Jail, and Undersheriff Jef Van Arsdall, have to use discretion when deciding which suspects stay in custody and which are released after being arrested. Generally, people accused of serious crimes against people remain in jail. Since the pandemic began, the Jail, which has a capacity of 45 inmates, has generally incarcerated 15 or fewer. Having fewer inmates makes it easier to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 in the building, which was constructed in 1991 and also houses the sheriff’s office and emergency dispatch center.

A situation earlier this week illustrates the dilemma that officials face.

Forrest Lee Entermille, 41, of Baker City, was arrested Sunday night in Haines after allegedly breaking beer bottles during an argument and throwing an object at a pickup truck. Baker County Circuit Court Judge Matt Shirtcliff granted Entermille a conditional release from the Jail the next day, Monday.

Later that day Entermille was arrested for allegedly entering a Baker City man’s home, hitting him in the head and, accompanied by Margaret Samantha Lacey, 33, stealing the man’s wallet and two phones. Shirtcliff revoked the release agreement, and Entermille remained in jail Friday.

The precautions at the Jail are reasonable, to be sure. And only with the benefit of hindsight does the release of Entermille clearly seem a mistake. But county officials, and judges, need to consider the potential benefits in protecting the public by holding inmates such as Entermille, even though that might slightly increase the risk inside the Jail. Entermille has a criminal history in Baker County dating to 2013, including convictions for fourth-degree assault and disorderly conduct. That background, combined with his arrest on Sunday in Haines, justified keeping him in custody.

— Jayson Jacoby, Baker City Herald editor

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