When Dominic Coelho saw the man who was responsible for his son’s death and that of two other men sentenced for his crimes, he took the smallest comfort in believing the man would spend some time behind bars.
It turns out that wasn’t true.
Turlock resident Alexander Swanton pled guilty in July to one count of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. However, his sentence was suspended upon completion of 60 months probation. Swanton also was ordered to 365 days in the Stanislaus County Jail. But now, the family of his victims have learned that Swanton, who reported to the county jail in August, is being allowed to serve his time on home detention.
“It’s just bizarre. It’s unbelievable,” said Coelho.
Swanton was behind the wheel of a 2007 Cadillac that crashed in the early hours of June 28, 2011, on Walnut Road and killed Dominic Coelho, 23, Duarte Nunes, 39, and Zachary Baker, 21.
The California Highway Patrol report stated Swanton was driving at an excessively high rate of speed when he lost control of the vehicle, causing it to rollover several times. It was later learned Swanton was driving at 120 mph when the crash occurred.
Swanton was initially charged with three counts of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, but a deal with the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office saw two of the charges dropped in exchange for a guilty plea on the remaining count.
“It was our understanding that he would actually spend some time in jail,” Coelho said. “That was why we agreed to the deal. They should have told us that he might never spend any time in jail. We never would have agreed to the deal if we had known that.”
Realignment repercussion keeps Turlock man out of jail
Swanton’s change in custody may be a repercussion of California’s realignment order AB 109. The state was given a court order to drastically reduce the population in the overcrowded prisons. As a result, the state shifted correction responsibility of thousands of non-serious, non-violent, non-sexual felony offenders to the 58 counties, which in turn led to some inmates at the county level getting early released or home detention.
“The criminal justice system is not kind or fair to our victims and this is a classic case of that,” said Sheriff Adam Christianson. “Realignment has taken all accountability out of our system."
Christianson said that because of AB 109 he has had to allow hundreds, if not a thousand, inmates sentenced to jail spend their time in alternative programs, like home detention.
“If it were up to me, he would serve every day he was eligible to serve,” Christianson said of Swanton. “But because of realignment, I have no choice. This is what we are faced with.”
Stanislaus County was already dealing with an overcrowding issue before AB 109 was instituted and Christianson said it has only made the issue worse.
“I have to keep the worst of the worst out of our community and put the best of the worst back into the community,” Christianson said.
In deciding who is eligible for the home detention program, the sheriff’s department considers an inmate’s prior criminal history, flight risk, and whether or not alcohol or drugs were involved. In Swanton’s case, he had no other prior convictions, was not considered a flight risk and drugs and alcohol were not involved in the fatal collision.
Inmates serving home detention wear ankle bracelets. They are monitored remotely, as well as with home visits. They are allowed to go to and from work if they are employed.
“It is a very restrictive environment, but admittedly, it is not jail,” Christianson said.
For the Coelho family, there is no comfort to be found now that their son’s killer has been granted a reprieve from his time behind bars.
“He killed three people and now he’s sitting at home, playing his Nintendo I guess,” Coelho said.