EUGENE, Ore. - Police booked Ricardo Antonio Chaney into jail after finding an AR-15, body armor and meth in his car March 6.
He went free hours later.
Prosecutors never filed charges.
Now it appears Chaney killed a retired professor and set the man's house on fire before carjacking 2 international students from China, forcing them into the trunk of the driver's BMW, then driving to California, where he got in a gunfight with a tourist attraction employee before killing a sheriff's deputy in a gunfight.
Chaney died in gunfire March 19.
Why did he go free March 6?
"Evidence found during the stop caused police to arrest Chaney on a felony drug possession charge and a misdemeanor weapon charge, but Chaney was subsequently released from custody when the District Attorney's office failed to file charges," the Lane County District Attorney's office said in a statement Thursday. The office "lost the capacity to file most misdemeanor charges more than 10 years ago. Additional layoffs in recent years have reduced DA staffing to the point where over 25 percent of the viable felony volume is no longer being charged. The March 6 charges against Chaney were not filed because they fell below the current triage standards and involved no violence or threat of violence."
Alex Gardner, the Lane County district attorney, said the office's staff has shrunk even as the area's population grew.
"35 years ago we had 32 DAs in the criminal division," he said. "There's about 20 now, and over that period of time our population has increased about 25 percent."
So how does the DA "triage" cases and decide when to file charges - or, in the case of Chaney caught with drugs and an illegal firearm, decide not to file charges?
"The question is what risk does this offender present to the community right now?" Gardner said. "The crime for which the person is arrested is an important piece of that but so is their crime history and risk assessment."
Gardner said Oregon has high crime rates but insufficient resources to pay for justice.
"I have the charts to show how Oregon spends its money," Gardner said, "and how it doesn't is higher education and law enforcement when you compare it with the rest of the United States."