Updated December 29, 2021 - 2:51 pm
A felon accused of shooting a Chinatown waiter multiple times was released from jail six days before the crime with the help of a national nonprofit seeking to end the cash bail system, records show.
Las Vegas police allege that on the morning of Dec. 20, 23-year-old Rashawn Gaston-Anderson entered the ShangHai Taste restaurant on Spring Mountain Road and opened fire on waiter Chengyan Wang during a robbery attempt.
The shooting sparked a communitywide discussion about public safety in the Chinatown district. Wang remained hospitalized Wednesday in critical condition in the intensive care unit of University Medical Center.
Gaston-Anderson, meanwhile, has had three separate felony convictions in three states since 2018, and he was arrested twice within 48 hours in Las Vegas in November. A judge set a $3,000 cash bail on Nov. 16 after the second arrest.
Court records show that a $3,000 cash bond was posted on Dec. 14 on behalf of Gaston-Anderson by the national nonprofit The Bail Project, which aims to combat mass incarceration by disrupting the cash bail system.
“Our local office received a referral for bail assistance from Mr. Gaston-Anderson’s public defender after the court approved his release on bail of $3,000,” said Cameron Pipe, a regional director for The Bail Project, in an emailed statement Wednesday to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “We were shocked to hear about this tragic incident and condemn this violence.”
Bail aid for indigent defendants
The Bail Project, which has an office in Las Vegas, advocates for justice system reform by getting rid of cash bail, which the organization says unfairly penalizes the indigent. The Bail Project said it decides whether to provide free bail aid to the poor after they are interviewed by the group’s client advocates. Money comes from a revolving fund paid for with charitable donations.
“We assist people who are legally presumed innocent and whom a judge has deemed eligible for bail release,” the organization said. “Once someone is released, our local offices provide court notifications, transportation, and referrals to services to ensure that a person can return to court as needed.”
Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson said that he agrees that the cash bail system needs to be reformed and that suspects should be released while awaiting trial if they are not a danger to society or a flight risk. But in Gaston-Anderson’s case, he said, the defendant’s criminal history required an intensive screening before he was able to walk out of the Clark County Detention Center.
Wolfson questioned The Bail Project’s vetting process.
“What do they do to determine whether a person should be considered for their generosity?” he asked. “Do they verify a residence? Do they look at the pretrial risk assessment, which is the tool that the courts use to determine flight risk and danger to the community? Do they verify employment? Do they verify family members?”
Wolfson noted that the risk assessment report provided to the court indicated that authorities were unable to verify an address for the defendant.
Clark County Public Defender Darin Imlay said he could not discuss specifics of Gaston-Anderson’s case. He said his office played a role in bringing The Bail Project to the Las Vegas Valley but has no formal relationship with the nonprofit.
Imlay said The Bail Project accepts referrals from any attorney, including private attorneys, but the organization alone decides whether to bail someone out.
Suspect’s criminal history
Gaston-Anderson pleaded guilty to attempted grand larceny in District Court in Las Vegas in 2018 and was sentenced to 18 months of probation. Wolfson said he was convicted of felony burglary in New York in 2019. And this year, he was convicted of auto theft in Illinois.
Police have described Gaston-Anderson as a transient. His two Las Vegas arrests in November were on charges of grand larceny, burglary, pandering, carrying a concealed weapon without a permit and being a prohibited person in possession of a gun. He is being held on no bail at the detention center after the shooting of Wang.
“Normally when bail is posted, a cash bail, it is a family member or friend who is familiar with the accused,” Wolfson said. “One can say, in a sense, they are vouching for the person. They are risking their own money. A family member comes forward, a brother, a friend, and if they put up $3,000 and this person doesn’t show up or re-offends, they lose their own money. In this case, we have an out-of-state national organization with little or no ties to our community who puts up the cash bail.”
Questions about Gaston-Anderson’s ability to secure a release from jail given his record come just two weeks after another felon with a lengthy criminal history, Kirklin Oates, 55, was arrested in what police described as a “vicious” attack on a restaurant worker with a butcher knife at Paris Las Vegas on Dec. 14. Oates is a six-time felon with five arrests in the Las Vegas Valley since July.