Since Yaeger’s arrest, we’ve been seeking answers from the county about why he was back on the streets. When we made our initial request to Jackson County Community Justice, they wouldn’t comment citing an “ongoing investigation.” So we filed a public records request which the county denied. We appealed that denial to the district attorney because we felt the public had a right to know what happened in this case. And while a majority of what we were seeking is still being withheld, the D.A. did order the county to release Justin Yaeger’s lodging history. It shows when a person is arrested, released, or if they escaped.
Jackson County Community Justice won’t comment on anything about Justin Graham-Yaeger, so the public records detailing what happened after his most recent conviction will need to speak for themselves.
The 33-year-old has a record that includes convictions for burglary, resisting arrest, and felon in possession of a firearm. At the time of the alleged murder, Yaeger was on post-prison supervision.
He was also supposed to be serving a sentence for charges he received in Talent on April 20th, but he wasn’t.
According to jail and court records, Yaeger was booked at the Jackson County Jail on April 20th, after a Talent police officer recognized him for an active warrant. According to police, he gave a false name and wouldn’t give officers his hands when they told him he was under arrest. Two days later, he pleaded guilty to resisting arrest and was sentenced to 15 days in jail on April 23rd.
Community Justice Director Eric Guyer stated in a May interview with NBC5: “When somebody is sentenced to jail in Jackson County—when it’s less than a year for the sentence,—they’re actually sentenced to the supervisory authority.”
That’s what happened in this case. On April 26th, Yaeger was released from jail to the community justice work center. He was given a hard date – or max sentence – for serving at the center until May 17th. His projected release date – or soft date – if he earned work credit, was May 10th. But Yaeger was arrested by Medford police May 3rd, and charged with murder in the death of 23-year-old Sierra Bree Clemens.
According to the public records obtained by NBC5 News, he absconded from the Phoenix work center, less than 24 hours after he was released to the center from jail. It was 10:45 in the morning on April 27th. Yaeger left “wearing facility issued orange.”
According to the log, all appropriate personnel was notified, and a community justice officer issued a verbal detainer, though the county declined to explain what that entails. No warrant was issued until four days after Yaeger was lodged for murder.
Jackson County Sheriff Nathan Sickler said, “If we had an 800 bed or 1000 bed jail would he still be in custody? I don’t know. We don’t know because we don’t have that option.”
The crimes Yaeger was at the work center for in April were misdemeanors, nothing violent. But Sheriff Sickler—who won’t speak to this case in particular—said the county’s current system is overloaded. As a result, thousands are released from the jail each year due to a lack of space. And for the people serving short sentences at the unlocked county work center, that leaves little consequence for walking away. “There’s not a strong enough deterrent with the jail to keep them at the work release center,” Sheriff Sickler explained.
According to the most recent statistics from community justice, of the nearly 2,400 people brought to the center in 2017, just under 450 absconded. In other words, about 19% of the people who came in, walked out before their sentence was up.
While no one in the criminal justice system can anticipate what a person will or won’t do after leaving custody, Sickler said the incident highlights an ongoing issue of a jail that’s too small for the system. “If we could predict the future and predict human behavior, we would have zero crime,” he said. “If there was more beds to go around, then it would make sense that more people would occupy those beds.”
Sheriff Sickler said since opening the basement of the jail in 2017 and setting aside beds for holding people who chronically fail to appear in court, etc., The county has gone from 8,600 forced releases in 2016 to 5,400 last year.
Yaeger has pleaded not guilty to all the charges against him, which include murder, aggravated murder, and robbery. His next court date is scheduled for August.
Executive Producer Kristin Hosfelt anchors NBC5 News weeknights at 5 and 6. Originally from the Bay Area, Kristin earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Broadcast Journalism from San Jose State University.
She came to KOBI-TV/NBC5 from Bangor, Maine where she was the evening news anchor. Kristin has won multiple journalism awards including Best Feature Reporting in the State of Maine. In 2017, her investigation on lead pipes in Medford’s water system was named Best News Series by the Oregon Association of Broadcasters.
When Kristin is not sharing the news, she’s traveling, hunting down the best burrito, or buried in a Jodi Picoult novel. She’s also a Green Bay Packers shareholder; if you see her out and about she’d be happy to tell you the story of how a California girl became a cheesehead.