weather icon Windy

VICTOR JOECKS: Waukesha attack shows predictable, deadly consequences of gutting bail

There’s an entirely predictable downside to reducing or eliminating bail for those accused of violent offenses. As a horrified country saw in Waukesha, Wis., it gives them an opportunity to commit more crimes.

Last Sunday, a man drove a red SUV through the town’s annual Christmas Parade route. He sped up his vehicle before running into numerous parade participants and parade watchers. The death toll now stands at six, with more than 60 others injured. The youngest victim was an 8-year-old boy. He also killed members of the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies group.

Police arrested Darrell Brooks for the attack. This was far from his first interaction with the law. Police had him in custody — earlier this month. He was charged with punching a woman in the face and then running her over with his vehicle. But prosecutors requested that his bail be set at only $1,000. He posted bail and was out on the streets — with deadly consequences.

Brooks wasn’t a first-time offender. In the summer of 2020, Brooks allegedly shot at his nephew. Prosecutors hit him with felony charges, including second-degree recklessly endangering safety and a weapons charge.

His bail was originally $10,000 but was reduced to $500 after prosecutors weren’t able to conduct a jury trial fast enough. Brooks posted bail in that case in February.

He had several other past run-ins with the law, too. He is a registered sex offender here in Nevada, and our state has an open warrant for his arrest.

Belatedly, Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm said that the bail amount was “inappropriately low.” That’s obviously true, but he has been pushing to keep criminals out of jail for years.

“Inappropriately and dangerously low bail recommendations have been a hallmark of the Milwaukee County district attorney’s office since Chisholm, a liberal Democrat, was first elected in 2007,” Milwaukee talk show host Dan O’Donnell wrote.

In 2018, Chisholm approvingly quoted this statement from an assistant district attorney, “We have really made a commitment to not keeping individuals held unnecessarily on cash bail in the Milwaukee County Jail.”

Individuals in Milwaukee charged with serious felonies frequently receive unserious bail amounts, per a 2019 investigation by the MacIver Institute. Someone charged with first-degree sexual assault of a child had bail set at $750. For the crime of hit and run — death, the bail amount was $5,000.

It’s not just bail. Chisholm’s office has kept many dangerous criminals out of prison. In hundreds of instances, prosecutors simply didn’t prosecute, preferring alternatives such as treatment programs.

In one case, a man in his 50s was accused of sexually assaulting a 2-year-old girl, O’Donnell reported. The accused faced decades in prison. Prosecutors, however, gave him a deferred prosecution agreement, and he didn’t spend any time in prison.

This is a dangerous approach when applied to those charged with serious crimes. The danger is so obvious that Chisholm himself has acknowledged it.

“Is there going to be an individual I divert, or I put into treatment program, who’s going to go out and kill somebody?” Chisholm told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2007. “You bet. Guaranteed. It’s guaranteed to happen. It does not invalidate the overall approach.”

What a tragedy that Chisholm’s guarantee came true. What an outrage that a prosecutor thinks a murder victim — or six — is an acceptable trade-off in order to coddle criminals.

When someone has a long criminal record or is accused of violence, prosecutors shouldn’t be looking for a way to return that person to the streets. Prosecutors should advance justice by putting the guilty party in jail.

Gutting bail is a failed and deadly experiment.

Victor Joecks’ column appears each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Listen to him discuss his columns each Monday at noon with Kevin Wall on AM 670 KMZQ Right Talk. Contact him at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.