It’s been almost 55 years since a member of the Wicomico County Sheriff’s Office died in the line of duty. As it was said numerous times over the last week, 41-year-old Glenn Hilliard’s death was preventable. It’s what it makes it hurt so much. The court system deserves scrutiny as well as those in the community who did not alert police about the whereabouts of Austin Davidson, a wanted felon in four counties.
First, there is the court side of things.
Austin Davidson was convicted in 2019 as a 17-year-old for armed robbery of a McDonalds in Baltimore City. Davidson, now 20, received probation before judgment in 2020 and time served. Part of the deal included Davidson going into a juvenile placement program, which became unavailable due to the pandemic. The rub was if the program was unavailable Davidson would be sentenced to 10 years in jail with all but 18 months suspended. A judge chose probation before judgment with three years of supervised probation. Davidson immediately violated the terms of his probation, resulting in an arrest warrant being issued.
As Sheriff Mike Lewis said, since escaping a lengthy jail sentence, Davidson has “wreaked hell all over the lower Eastern Shore.” Indeed, he had outstanding arrest warrants in Wicomico, Somerset and Worcester counties before he shot a deputy in a field at night. Outstanding charges listed in those local warrants include firearm possession with a felony conviction, second degree burglary, illegal ammunition possession, second degree assault, malicious destruction of property and theft. In fact, for many of these charges, he was held locally before posting bail. While the court process in Baltimore deserves scrutiny, there is reason to question the local judicial system’s discretion as well. When in doubt about a suspect returning to court, the thought should always be to not offer bail. There was a system breakdown. The tough talk from Lewis and Gov. Larry Hogan was warranted but should be pointed at all the judicial systems at fault not just Baltimore City.
“We must hold people accountable, until we do these crimes will continue to occur,” said Lewis. “… individuals who are not held accountable here in the state of Maryland for their crimes will continue to offend.” Hogan added, “Someone like this should not have been out on the streets. Especially the judges in Baltimore City letting people out, the fact that this guy was out with not serving any jail time for an armed robbery is just unacceptable.”
While true, and internal reviews are needed by all counties involved, fault needs to be found with those who protected Davidson from authorities. Responsibility for the deputy’s death lies with those folks who did not do the right thing as well. There are many lessons to learn from this tragedy.