It was disappointing to learn Wednesday that a dangerous and notorious criminal walked out of the Barton County Jail Monday on a two-day furlough. It was no surprise, in light of John Paul Zapata’s previously reported criminal activity in this county, that he did not walk back in the door Wednesday morning as agreed.
What was surprising is to learn District Judge Verle Willey and Assistant County Attorney J. C. Reynolds both signed off on the furlough request. Presumably, they were aware of his record.
Since his arrest on May 8, Zapata had been held without bond on felony warrants at the jail. In addition to his May 8 arrest, Zapata has been listed in the jail’s log on Sept. 13, 2019, and on March 4, 2020, with charges ranging from drug distribution to money laundering to felon in possession of firearms.
After fleeing and eluding law enforcement on May 8, and requiring the use of officers from multiple agencies, a K-9 officer and tear gas to finally extract him from the crawl space of a residence, Zapata’s behavior left no doubt he should be considered a flight risk. The judge and the prosecuting attorney were made aware of his actions through the proceedings leading up to his plea.
Once again we, the people of Kansas Judicial District 20, are cutting deals with criminals and left looking like fools. Is this the new get out of jail strategy? Plead “guilty” and “no contest” to multiple felony charges in exchange for a furlough?
The sole purpose of the furlough was to “get his affairs in order before being sentenced to the Kansas Department of Corrections.” Certainly, Zapata got his affairs in order. They simply didn’t include returning to jail. To call him an “escapee” is a stretch.
Law enforcement is not to blame for this bumbling state of affairs. Many man hours were expended and lives were put on the line bringing about Zapata’s arrest. One can only imagine how frustrating it must be to have the hard-won victory simply disappear.
In recent weeks, the nation has focused on the need for police reform. Certainly, it is needed and the time is now, because there is no room for racism in law enforcement.
But, let us also remember that law enforcement is essential. Our police and sheriffs are our front-line workers tasked with tracking down and arresting the bad players, regardless of race, color, sex or sexual orientation that act as a virus in our communities.