It’s bad enough that justice might never come to the family of a 21-year-old woman who graduated from Bellevue University on Jan. 30 and died in a car crash the next day.
But every person involved in the systems that failed Sarah Root and her family should put their energy and time toward making sure this happens to no one else.
These systems failed Root before and after Jan. 31, when police say she was rear-ended by a drunken driver racing on L Street. Authorities charged Eswin Mejia, 19, with motor-vehicle homicide.
The Honduran was in the U.S. illegally. But the system wasn’t finished falling short.
To recount the troubling series of events: The county evaluated Mejia’s risk to flee as low, despite his failure to appear in court for lesser offenses and despite his immigration status. Omaha police and Douglas County prosecutors knew Mejia’s immigration status. It’s possible that County Judge Jeff Marcuzzo didn’t — but he didn’t let prosecutors argue their position regarding the level of Mejia’s bail. Prosecutors didn’t speak up when the judge decided Mejia could be released from jail after paying $5,000. Omaha police pressed federal immigration authorities to hold Mejia after his release, but they declined, citing a policy that prioritizes holding those who have already been convicted of felonies.
The result: Mejia’s family posted his bail — and he hasn’t been seen since.
It’s a miscarriage of justice, one that should not be repeated. County, state and federal authorities need to do a better job communicating with one another about such cases, and follow-through on all sides is paramount.
Such fixes can sound simple, but they aren’t. They’ll require the county to do a better job evaluating suspects’ flight risk, including working with police and federal authorities to verify a person’s immigration status.
Improvement will require judges to make sure they let prosecutors weigh in on bail amounts so the judges can make informed decisions. Prosecutors will need to be bolder about speaking up when they have information a judge needs to weigh, regardless of decorum.
As for the feds, reforms to fix a long-broken immigration enforcement system are overdue. Until that happens, the Department of Homeland Security should clarify that regional Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices should use their judgment more often and pursue federal holds on suspects when appropriate — particularly in felony cases with flight risk.
Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine is right to blame a lack of common sense and communication at all levels of government for the multiple ways the system failed Sarah Root’s family. “For (Mejia) to be able to evade prosecution is tremendously frustrating to us, and I know that’s true for (Root’s) family as well,” Kleine told The World-Herald’s Todd Cooper.
It is frustrating to all. So do right by Sarah and fix it.