Nondisclosure rules mean bail reform advocates mute on one case

An alleged shooter in a racially motivated Milwaukee band parade killing that has moved toward racial overtones is out on bail, and advocates for bail reform are largely silent on his case.

Fifty-five-year-old Darrell Brooks, released from the hospital last month, is accused of shooting and killing 54-year-old Diante Yarber in a gang-related attack Saturday in Waukesha. Brooks is charged with first-degree intentional homicide with use of a dangerous weapon and appeared in court July 10. He was sentenced to six years in prison in 2007 for attempted first-degree intentional homicide for fatally shooting a fellow gang member, according to The Journal Sentinel.

It was on the Waukesha City Council on Tuesday that Brooks requested a $5 million cash bail for his appeal; a judge has not made a decision. Legal experts say a no-obligation cash bond allows for a better chance of freedom.

But Brooks’ request took place in the same council meeting where council members were meeting to consider a proposal to lower the cash bail threshold for a gun case from $250,000 to $10,000. Their proposed amendment is the fourth version of a broad reform effort to lower the cash threshold since May.

Frieda Frick, director of criminal justice reform for the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, did not respond to a phone message seeking comment.

Linda Clifford, executive director of the Wisconsin Justice Reform Collaborative, a statewide crime advocacy group, did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Diana Butto of the Wisconsin Coalition Against Racism and Police Brutality said via email that she did not return an email seeking comment.

Melody Edwards, director of the local organization ECONESS, said via email that she did not immediately return a call.

Steve Pfannenstein, a criminal justice professor at Marquette University, said the judge didn’t make the right decision and the broad reform effort has been undermined by Brooks’ bail request. The broad effort got off to a good start in May with lower cash bail but now has been reduced to political posturing.

The final proposal, as introduced, would be to lower the bail amount to $10,000 from $250,000, but the cash threshold would not be lowered. Even if the bail was reduced to $10,000, Pfannenstein said, it is easier to post cash than it is to get a protective bond, which requires a third party to guarantee your appearance in court.

Changing the bail figure to a no-obligation cash bond keeps the state’s attorney’s and police on side but hurts many of the poor who will still be convicted, Pfannenstein said.

“Criminal justice is certainly complicated but it’s not as complicated as bail reform, which has backfired a lot,” Pfannenstein said.

It’s tough to do justice for victims and defendants alike because moving things around takes away incentives for the guilty to take responsibility and is expensive, Pfannenstein said.

New York, California and Kentucky have overhauled bail reform efforts to give judges more flexibility and give them more money in personal bonds so they can be bonded out of jail. In each state, reforms took place after well-known cases involving shootings that triggered protests.

While Wisconsin has not seen the level of anger that is seen in those other states, experts said Wisconsin needs to do something to protect people who deserve bail based on their cases.

“The concern is the same,” said Chaz Adams, criminal justice researcher for Disability Rights Wisconsin. “They have a stake in this. If the system is not going to be fairly applied they are not going to go to jail.”

Any higher bail or a no-obligation bond will do nothing for Brooks’ attorney, Thomas Quigley.

“That’s not the way the system is supposed to work,” Quigley said, noting that the man on the other side of Brooks’ shooting “should be entitled to a bail hearing even if he’s got a $250,000 bond.”


This story has been updated to correct the identity of the alleged shooter in the Waukesha parade killing to Darrell Brooks.


Information from: The Journal Sentinel,

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