Milwaukee court commissioner slammed over low bail for Waukesha massacre suspect


The Milwaukee County Judicial Court Commissioner is under fire after he approved a $1,000 bond earlier this month for the career criminal accused of plowing his SUV into a parade of Christmas marchers in Waukesha last weekend.

Commissioner Cedric Cornwall approved the low bond for Darrell Brooks during an arraignment for alleged hit-and-run, despite the fact that he’s been bailed twice this year and has a lengthy criminal history stretching back to 1999.

Brooks, 39, was arrested on November 2 in Milwaukee for hunting down the mother of one of his children at a local hotel. He then followed her down the street with his red Ford SUV and allegedly ran her over in the parking lot of a gas station after she refused to get into his car. That same SUV was used in the Waukesha massacre. 

Critics are also slamming the Milwaukee District Attorney’s Office after court records revealed an ‘inexperienced’ rookie prosecutor and her ‘rushed supervisor’ likely overlooked Brooks’ lengthy criminal history when setting bail for the hit-and-run.

Law experts allege Brooks - who was released on a $1,000 bond over the alleged hit-and-run - would have rated 'six out of six and flagged as a high risk for violence' on the court's risk assessment, meaning he should've been given a higher bail amount

Law experts allege Brooks – who was released on a $1,000 bond over the alleged hit-and-run – would have rated ‘six out of six and flagged as a high risk for violence’ on the court’s risk assessment, meaning he should’ve been given a higher bail amount

Darrell Brooks, who is accused of plowing his SUV into a parade of Christmas marchers last weekend (pictured), was out on a $1,000 bond at the time of the incident, despite the fact that he's been bailed twice this year and has a lengthy criminal history stretching back to 1999

Darrell Brooks, who is accused of plowing his SUV into a parade of Christmas marchers last weekend (pictured), was out on a $1,000 bond at the time of the incident, despite the fact that he’s been bailed twice this year and has a lengthy criminal history stretching back to 1999

Cornwall, who has served as commissioner since 2005, has a history of low bonds, Fox News reported.

On the same day he set the $1,000 bond for Brooks, he also set bail at $500 for a man accused of strangulation, battery and domestic violence. The day before he set bail at $1,000 for a woman charged with three felonies, including child abuse. 

In 2006, the commissioner set bail at $100,00 for a foreign exchange student accused of a sex crime. Cornwall didn’t require the man to surrender his passport and he fled to China where he was later arrested on and unrelated charged and extradited back to the United States.     

Others are slamming Prosecutor Michelle Grasso, a 2019 Marquette University Law School graduate, and Carole Manchester, a representative from the DA’s office, over Darrell Brooks’ early release.

Some legal experts have suggested Brooks’ controversial release stemmed from Grasso and Manchester overlooking the fact that he should have never been eligible for low bail due to his history of violence, domestic abuse, sexual crime, drug offenses and bail jumping. They allege that the pair were possibly struggling with the county’s backlog of cases.

‘We are now facing, in Milwaukee County, a backlog to the tune of two years when it comes to trials,’ Mary E. Triggiano, chief judge of the state’s First Judicial District, told the New York Times.   

‘The whole ecosystem is interconnected, so everything — the courts, jails, bail — is affected by the crisis. We are struggling with this every single day.’

Others argue the backlog is causing vital case information to slip through the cracks.

‘With a tragedy like this, a true tragedy, we do not have any way of predicting when this is likely to happen or not likely to happen,’ echoed Meghan Guevara, an executive partner at the Pretrial Justice Institute. 

‘If the judges were not having to churn through so many cases, they may have time to focus on a case like this.’ 

Defendants are screened with a pretrial risk assessment that looks at several factors, including their prior convictions, to evaluate the risk of them failing to appear in court or their likelihood to commit another crime.

Judges and court commissioners are then given this risk score, along with recommendations from the defense and prosecution, to aid in setting bond and release conditions.  

The Christmas parade began on Sunday at 4pm, with participants starting at Main St. and Whiterock Ave. It was always intended to be a short parade, ending half a mile away at the northeast corner of Cutler Park. At 4.39pm, the red SUV is filmed speeding down Main Street. It smashed into the crowd, and sent bodies flying, before carrying on down towards the end of the parade, where the car broke through barriers. The SUV was found less than five blocks away and the driver was taken into custody but it’s unclear exactly where

According to the Times, Brooks would have rated ‘six out of six and flagged as a high risk for violence’ on the assessment.  

‘This was not the product of criminal justice reform or bail reform efforts, which have rightfully questioned how we use pretrial and post-conviction incarceration,’ Craig Mastantuono, a Milwaukee criminal defense lawyer,  argued.

The Milwaukee District Attorney's Office is under fire after court records revealed an 'inexperienced' rookie prosecutor and 'rushed supervisor' likely overlooked Darrell Brooks' (pictured) history when setting his low bail

The Milwaukee District Attorney’s Office is under fire after court records revealed an ‘inexperienced’ rookie prosecutor and ‘rushed supervisor’ likely overlooked Darrell Brooks’ (pictured) history when setting his low bail

He called Brooks’ release ‘a mistake’ that occurred ‘despite, not because of, the current bail and risk assessment system in place.’ 

Meanwhile, Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm released a statement Monday admitting Brooks should not have been released on the $1,000 bond earlier this month.

Chisholm said: ‘The state’s bail recommendation in this case was inappropriately low in light of the nature of the recent charges and the pending charges against Mr. Brooks. 

‘The bail recommendation in this case is not consistent with the approach of the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office toward matters involving violent crime, nor was it consistent with the risk assessment of the defendant prior to setting of bail.

He continued: ‘This office is currently conducting an internal review of the decision to make the recent bail recommendation in this matter in order to determine the appropriate next steps.’

In a 2007 interview with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Chisholm also said the state’s risk assessment system could not ‘perfectly predict’ who might commit violence. 

‘Is there going to be an individual I divert, or I put into a treatment program, who’s going to go out and kill somebody? You bet,’ he said at the time.

He also argued in favor of programs that reduce recidivism, such as alternatives to incarceration. 

However, the massive misstep in the Milwaukee legal office’s handling of Brooks’ bail proceedings comes as career prosecutor and longtime Milwaukee County DA Chisholm sought to send fewer Wisconsin residents to prison while maintaining public safety – amid an unprecedented influx of crime in Milwaukee County.

To combat the crime wave, Chisholm enlisted the help of the Vera Institute of Justice, a New York-based nonprofit group that works with leaders in government and civil settings ‘to improve the services people rely on for safety and justice,’ according to the organization’s website.

Its website explicitly says that Vera opposes cash bail. Advocates say the measure unfairly penalizes the poorest, and results in disproportionate numbers of ethnic minority suspects in jails awaiting trial. 

But opponents say the measure often results in career criminals being immediately released back onto the streets to commit more offenses.  

Milwaukee County still imposes cash bail rules. But through this coalition with Vera, Chisholm also looked to address the prevailing racial disparities in incarcerations in the predominantly white county, with Wisconsin leading the nation in black incarcerations.

Following Brooks' arrest, Chisholm's office conceded that the career criminal's bail was set 'inappropriately low'

Following Brooks’ arrest, Chisholm’s office conceded that the career criminal’s bail was set ‘inappropriately low’

Vera Institute President Nicholas Turner hailed Chisholm’s efforts in the 2015 New Yorker piece.

He said: ‘For a long time, prosecutors have defined themselves through conviction rates and winning the big cases with the big sentences. But the evidence is certainly tipping that the attainment of safety and justice requires more than just putting people in prison for a long time.  

‘Prosecutors have to redefine their proper role in a new era. Chisholm stuck his neck out there and started saying that prosecutors should also be judged by their success in reducing mass incarceration and achieving racial equality.’ 

According to data compiled by the Milwaukee Employment & Training Institute reveals, more than half of all African-American males in their 30s and 40s residing in the state of Wisconsin have at some point served a stint in state prisons.

But Chisholm’s ‘experiment,’ as the New Yorker called it in a 2015 piece detailing the progressive policy, has been largely unsuccessful.

Since the early days of the pandemic, the county that Chisholm has overseen for the past 14 years has seen crime rates – especially those of the violent sort – soar to startling new levels.

Homicide rates, for instance, have seen a nearly hundred per cent increase between 2019 and 2020, rocketing from 97 murders two years ago to 190 last year.

Homicide rates have seen a nearly hundred per cent increase between 2019 and 2020 in Milwaukee County, rocketing from 97 murders two years ago to 190 last year.

Homicide rates have seen a nearly hundred per cent increase between 2019 and 2020 in Milwaukee County, rocketing from 97 murders two years ago to 190 last year.

Since the early days of the pandemic, the county that Chisholm has overseen for the past 14 years has seen crime rates - especially those of the violent sort - soar to startling new levels

Since the early days of the pandemic, the county that Chisholm has overseen for the past 14 years has seen crime rates – especially those of the violent sort – soar to startling new levels

Meanwhile, Brooks has charged with five counts of first-degree intentional homicide over the Christmas parade massacre and is expected to face a sixth count after an 8-year-old boy died Tuesday. Waukesha County District Attorney Susan Opper has also said additional charges are likely.

Brooks’ attorneys, Jeremy Perri and Anna Kees, cautioned people not to judge the case before all facts are known.

‘It’s essential that we not rush to judgment, and instead treat these proceedings and all those involved with dignity and respect,’ they said in a statement Wednesday.

‘That includes Mr. Brooks, who is entitled to a vigorous defense and careful protection of his Constitutional rights. No matter how serious and emotional the charges, until the government proves its allegations beyond a reasonable doubt, our client is presumed innocent.’

Opper said Wednesday her office would not comment on a pending case.

Brooks is accused of refusing to stop even as an officer banged on the hood of his SUV. Another officer fired three shots into the vehicle, but it did not stop.

Brooks has charged with five counts of first-degree intentional homicide over the Christmas parade massacre and is expected to face a sixth count after an 8-year-old boy died Tuesday. Waukesha County District Attorney Susan Opper has also said additional charges are likely.

Brooks has charged with five counts of first-degree intentional homicide over the Christmas parade massacre and is expected to face a sixth count after an 8-year-old boy died Tuesday. Waukesha County District Attorney Susan Opper has also said additional charges are likely.

Five people ranging in age from 52 to 81 were pronounced dead within hours. One of many injured children, Jackson Sparks, 8, died on Tuesday. Representatives for area hospitals said Wednesday that at least 16 people are being treated for injuries. 

A criminal complaint detailing the charges includes statements from police officers and witnesses who said the vehicle ‘appeared to be intentionally moving side to side,’ with no attempt to slow down or stop as it struck multiple people and sent bodies and objects flying.  

Given the controversy around the case, several experts are predicting there to be a plea deal.

‘If I were in this case, what I’d be trying to do was to see how I can put out this fire as quickly as possible,’ said Phil Turner, a former federal prosecutor who now works in private practice in Chicago. ‘If you let it linger, it’s only going to get worse.’



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