ESCONDIDO — A 22-year-old man accused in a near-fatal stabbing last weekend in Escondido had contact with police at least six times in recent weeks but avoided jail because of changes in booking criteria meant to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, police said Tuesday.

Timothy Michael Alvarado was arrested Saturday in connection with an attack on a homeless man at an encampment near the Escondido Transit Center. According to online jail records, Alvarado was booked on suspicion of attempted murder.

The last time he was in county jail was in early April, when he was serving time on a burglary conviction. He was released April 3, just days before state courts issued an emergency order that set bail at $0 for misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies, in an effort to reduce jail populations and prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Alvarado’s alleged string of crimes began a little more than a month later, police in Escondido said.

Lt. Kevin Toth said Monday that new booking criteria, which incorporate the Judicial Council’s bail order, kept officers from booking Alvarado into jail in connection with several recent offenses, which included a string of auto thefts. Instead, Alvarado was issued citations in most cases.

“We’re hoping that people understand that this isn’t a ‘get out of jail free’ [card] forever. These are special circumstances due to a global pandemic,” Toth said of the modified booking rules. “Hopefully once courts open up, this will catch up with them.

“We don’t want people to think there’s no accountability,” he added.

Authorities say the string of crimes began May 2, when a suspect they identified as Alvarado led officers on a high-speed chase in a minivan that had been stolen from a used-car lot. Officers arrested him at the end of the chase, then issued a citation and released him.

Two days later, police said, Alvarado was pulled over at a Motel 6 in a Jaguar sedan that had been stolen from the area of Morning View Drive and Lincoln Avenue. He was arrested, cited and released.

On May 10, Alvarado was arrested near Harmony Grove Road in a Mitsubishi Lancer that had been taken from an apartment complex on Lincoln Avenue. Police said he had methamphetamine in his possession. He was cited and released. The car was returned to its owner, only to be stolen again sometime between May 13 and 14.

On May 14, Alvarado was arrested again in the area of Mission Avenue and Broadway, in the same Mitsubishi Lancer. Police said he had a modified key that did not belong to the car’s owner. He was given a citation, then released.

Police said Alvarado was cited on two other occasions, on May 12 and again on Thursday. But the alleged offenses — a city code violation and possession of drug paraphernalia — would not have landed him in jail even under regular, non-emergency booking criteria.

On Saturday morning, an officer stopped and questioned Alvarado for reasons that were not disclosed but did not issue any citations. Later that day, just before 3 p.m., a homeless man was stabbed in some bushes at the encampment.

A police supervisor who was nearby heard the man’s screams. The supervisor saw someone he believed was the assailant emerge from the bushes, followed by the victim, who was holding his neck and yelling at the other person to stop.

The supervisor drove a short distance to the crime scene and started treating the homeless man, who was bleeding profusely, police said. Medics took the man to a hospital, where he underwent emergency surgery. Police said he remained hospitalized on Monday.

Alvarado was arrested minutes after the stabbing on a bike path near Tulip Street. He was booked into jail early Sunday, according to jail records.

“Sometimes putting people in jail is necessary for public safety,” Toth said. “In that regard the changes [in booking criteria] have been challenging.”

Police said a motive for the attack and the events leading up to it were under investigation.

Toth said Alvarado and the victim might know each other.

Hernandez writes for the San Diego Union Tribune.