Sheriff: Florida drug suspect committed murder the day after his release from jail in COVID-19 purge

TAMPA, Fla. -- On March 19, a drug suspect with a lengthy rap sheet was released as part of efforts in Hillsborough County, Florida to thin out the jail population amid the COVID-19 pandemic. One day later, the sheriff said he committed murder.

According to the sheriff’s office, Joseph Williams was in the Orient Road Jail on charges of possession of heroin, a third-degree felony, and possession drug paraphernalia, a first-degree misdemeanor.

The 26-year-old was one of 100 inmates given bond as part of an effort to lower the risk of COVID-19 spreading within detention facilities and to protect the inmates, deputies and civilians working within the jails.

Now, sheriff's officials said he was arrested for a murder that took place March 20 along Ash Avenue in Tampa’s Progress Village neighborhood.

The sheriff’s office did not offer details about the crime, but Williams faces new charges of second-degree murder, resisting an officer with violence, being a felon in possession of a firearm, possession of heroin and possession of drug paraphernalia. Record showed he was arrested Monday, April 13.

"There is no question Joseph Williams took advantage of this health emergency to commit crimes while he was out of jail awaiting resolution of a low-level, non-violent offense,” Sheriff Chad Chronister offered while announcing the arrest. “Every murder, every violent crime, especially those involving a gun, is a sickening example of the worst in our community, especially at a time when our community is working relentlessly to fight against the spread of this deadly COVID-19.”

The sheriff’s office noted that Williams was previously convicted of two felony offenses, including burglary of an unoccupied conveyance in 2012 and felon in possession of a firearm in 2018, along with five misdemeanor convictions.

"Judges, prosecutors, and sheriffs around the country are facing difficult decisions during this health crisis with respect to balancing public health and public safety."

— Sheriff Chad Chronister

Throughout the course of his criminal history, Williams has been arrested for 35 charges in total.

After his latest arrest, he was taken back to jail on a "no bond" status.