More than 70 people avoided arrest on child support warrants by meeting with a family court judge Saturday.
The Baltimore City sheriff's office offered nearly 700 people the opportunity to reconcile their open warrants during the one-day event at the Baltimore Circuit Courthouse. Attendees were given a summons for a new court date and informed of ways to connect with services to help them make their payments.
"This has given individuals an opportunity to come to terms with child-support issues," said Maj. Sabrina Tapp-Harper, a spokeswoman for the sheriff's office. "Many times, they may be in a situation that prevents them from getting that situation taken care of."
Sometimes parents cannot pay child support because they are unemployed, have substance abuse or mental health problems or don't have a driver's license. Officials from state agencies including the Department of Human Resources, which includes Child Support Services, were available to help individuals make payment plans.
Leonard Fields, 42, of Baltimore, said he attended the event after he failed to show up to a court hearing over child support for his 18- and 12-year-old kids.
Fields, who works at the Baltimore Convention Center, said he was working at the time of the hearing.
If not for Saturday's event, he said, "the warrant would've been active," and he would have faced arrest.
Tapp-Harper said the office holds the event roughly once a year. She said it is safer for defendants and officers than an arrest, and saves the city and state money.
By 3 p.m. Saturday, 71 people had stopped by and 86 cases had been reconciled. Six people were arrested for open warrants on criminal cases, Tapp-Harper said.
"We have to address that," she said. "For someone dealing with issues other than child support, we have to go through the normal arrest process."
But she said the event is intended as a public service for those with open warrants.
"Anybody that we are able to help in a situation like this, we feel like it was beneficial. We feel like it was worth it," she said.
Kevin Kelly, 57, left the courthouse feeling relieved on Saturday morning. His warrant was from 2013, when he failed to make a court date in a paternity case for his daughter.
"I forgot," he said.
Having an open warrant caused him a lot of stress.
The event "is a better way to fulfill obligations," Kelly said. "I don't want to run. It was a good opportunity."