By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — If Gov. Tony Evers would have had his way, the Milwaukee man charged in the Waukesha Christmas parade massacre would not have faced felony bail-jumping charges in his long and violent criminal career.
Evers pushed for ending felony bail-jumping penalties in his last biennial budget proposal.
“The governor recommends eliminating the felony penalty for bail jumping and allowing for a misdemeanor penalty regardless of the original charge,” the plan declared. It was part of a paragraph in which Evers recommended legalizing marijuana.
Evers has been asked by Milwaukee County residents to remove District Attorney John Chisholm from his post on “dereliction of duty” charges after Chisholm’s office recommended “inappropriately low” bail for Darrell Brooks Jr. The 39-year-old Milwaukee man is accused of plowing his SUV into the Nov. 21 Christmas parade in Waukesha, killing six people and injuring dozens more. Just days before, Brooks was set free on $1,000 bail after being charged with recklessly endangering safety. Police say he ran over the mother of his child — with the same SUV he drove into the Waukesha parade.
Brooks has a long and violent rap sheet, including multiple felony bail jumping charges. Brooks, a registered sex offender in Nevada, has an outstanding warrant in that state on unrelated charges. He was arrested and then jumped bail, authorities said.
Apparently, Brooks’ history as a flight risk wasn’t considered in the Milwaukee County District Attorney office’s low bail recommendation. Chisholm said his own internal investigation into the matter found a “young” assistant DA did not have access to Brooks’ risk assessment file in making her decision to double the $500 bail from the last time the repeat offender was cheaply released from state custody. Just why the prosecutor didn’t have that information remains unclear.
Felony bail jumping comes with a prison sentence of up to six years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines. But the charges are often dismissed as part of plea deals, a common occurrence in Milwaukee County’s bargain-basement criminal justice system.
Liberal criminal justice advocates have attacked felony bail-jumping charges and penalties as punitive, with cases exploding in recent years. From 2000 to 2016, felony bail jumping moved from the 10th most charged crime to the third, according to a Capitol Times report. But that has something to do with prosecutors and courts quick to turn bail jumpers loose, including some very violent bail jumpers.
Chippewa County District Attorney Wade C. Newell told the Capitol Times that bail conditions are designed to keep the community safe.
Republican lawmakers this week unveiled legislation aimed at protecting the public from repeat violent offenders, including those who jump bail.
A bill co-authored by Sens. Julian Bradley (R-Franklin) and Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) bans courts from setting an unsecured bond or releasing without bail someone previously convicted of bail jumping. Defendants can only be released if they execute a secured bond or deposit cash in an amount of at least $5,000.
“There are some glaring holes in our bail system and we’re going to try to fill those,” Bradley told Empower Wisconsin in an interview this week.
Republican lawmakers rejected Evers’ proposal to eliminate bail jumping as a felony charge among his long list of liberal non-fiscal policy items in his budget plan.