The COVID-19 outbreak is reshaping the way courts handle criminal proceedings and hearings Monday in the Knox County court illustrated the conflicting goals of reducing jailhouse populations but making sure the community is safe from potentially dangerous suspects.

Judge Paul Mathews heard three hearings April 6 in the Knox County court on requests by defense attorneys for reduction of bail amounts for their clients. He rejected two of the requests but approved one.

The hearing was held with defendants appearing by a large video screen from the Knox County Jail in Rockland. The prosecution was represented via a telephone. The judge and court officers were wearing gloves and defense attorneys were instructed to stand further from the judge in an area normally reserved for the general public.

Attorney David Paris argued for bail to be reduced for Jason D. Patterson and Michael Minson, saying the jail wants to have inmates released to prevent the risk of COVID-19 spreading in the facility.

Patterson, 47, has been held without bail since his arrest Nov. 2 for felony domestic violence assault in Rockland. Patterson was on probation for felony domestic violence aggravated assault at the time of his arrest.

Assistant District Attorney Christopher Fernald argued against releasing Patterson saying he posed a public safety risk. Fernald cited Patterson's lengthy criminal record and said the offense itself was severe.

"Even with COVID-19, there's no way he should come close (to being released)," Fernald said.

The woman suffered bruising to her face, the prosecutor said.

Defense attorney David Paris disputed the woman suffered facial bruising and said he has talked with her. He said the argument began over a piece of burnt garlic bread and that the woman came at his client first.

Paris said his client has been held for more than five months and the earliest a trial could be held would be August.

Judge Mathews said he understood the desire of jail officials to reduce the number of people being held but that public safety from criminal defendants must also be considered. He said there was probable cause for the defendant to be held and that during these times when people must shelter in place, the potential for something to occur may be greater in close quarters.

Judge Mathews also rejected the request of Paris for Minson to be released.

Minson, 32, has been held without bail since his arrest Feb. 8 for a series of incidents at the Brunswick Rooms in Rockland.

Police reported at the time that a woman told police Minson attempted to use her rent money to buy suboxone and when she protested, he grabbed her by the throat and squeezed her neck until she became unconscious. She said he also slapped her and pushed her against a mirror, during the attack.

The woman said when she regained consciousness, she opened the door to the room and was trying to scream. A female friend came over to the room and Minson pulled her into the room and assaulted her, according to the police affidavit filed in court at the time of the arrest. A man also responded and was assaulted by Minson, according to the police report.

MInson was charged with Class A aggravated assault, Class C domestic violence assault, Class C domestic violence criminal restraint, Class C domestic violence criminal threatening, two counts of Class C assault, and Class C domestic violence terrorizing.

Minson has prior convictions for domestic violence.

He was also on probation at the time of his arrest for a manslaughter conviction. He was sentenced in 2016 to four-and-half years in prison for a crash in Casco that killed Cameron Peterson and seriously injured his mother in 2015.

Police reported he was speeding and driving without a license when he lost control of his car and slammed into a utility pole.

Judge Mathews agreed to release a third defendant — Jamie Nickerson, 31, of Rockland on $1,000 unsecured bail.

Fernald had argued against her release, saying public safety was also an issue in this case.

Nickerson had been free on bail for domestic violence criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon and threatening display of a weapon when she pulled out a knife at a bar and threatened to stab her former boyfriend when she saw him with another woman.

She was arrested in early February when police found her at a city park with the former boyfriend. Her bail on the earlier charge had prohibited her from having contact with him. In addition, police found Nickerson has a dagger on her when police found her, according to Fernald.

Defense attorney Adrianne Fernstrom said that the former boyfriend approached Nickerson in the park.

Fernald asked that a condition of release require that Nickerson wear an ankle bracelet that can make sure she adheres to a condition imposed by the judge that she remain home. Judge Mathews denied that request saying he did not want the $5 per day monitoring fee to prevent her from being released.

On Friday, April 3, District Attorney Natasha Irving said she and he assistant district attorneys were "fighting to make sure dangerous and violent offenders are not released. We will continue to fight to keep our community safe in the face of mounting pressure to release individuals based on number of months left to serve or number of people incarcerated, instead of looking at each case individually and the need to protect victims of violence and sexual assault.More to come."

On March 24, Knox County Sheriff Tim Carroll announced that 25 percent of inmates at the Knox County Jail had been released.

Carroll said on March 24 "We all take our responsibility seriously to ensure that we only release after thorough review, discussion, and consideration. It is certainly a team effort of corrections staff, administration, our programming partners, the District Attorney’s Office, Justices of the State, and Defense Attorney’s carefully reviewing before allowing persons out of confinement."

"We have nine housed at the Re-entry Center in Waldo County and we have six out on "Home Confinement." Those on HC have had various charges such as violating conditions of release from previous charges pre-trial or sentences, OUI. and related traffic offenses, Operating after license revoked, and a multitude of drug related offenses from possession to trafficking.  We also screened some that their sentences were finishing up soon and released them ahead of time with conditions of checking in or maintain counseling," the Sheriff said.