MADISON, Wis. — Milwaukee County's top prosecutor says an assistant district attorney with less than three years experience on the job, made a mistake when she sought $1,000 bail for Darrell Brooks.
Brooks is accused of deliberately driving through the Waukesha Christmas parade. Last month, Brooks posted that $1,000 bail in a domestic violence case, in which he’s accused of running over the mother of his child with his SUV.
Just days later, with the same SUV, Brooks drove through the parade, killing six people and injuring more than 60 others.
District Attorney John Chisholm told Milwaukee County's Judiciary, Safety and General Services Committee Thursday that there's no excuse for asking for such a low amount of bail. He said the assistant district attorney was dealing with a heavy case load and made an error that set in motion a chain of events that resulted in tragedy.
The low bail was approved by the court commissioner even though Brooks was at the time, in violation of his bail conditions for a separate 2020 case.
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Bail amounts are ultimately set by presiding judges, who could decide to set a higher or lower bail than what is recommended by district attorneys.
“You had a young district attorney trying to do the best she could under really difficult circumstances,” Chisholm said. “She didn’t have access to the risk assessment created for Brooks, because it wasn’t uploaded into the system yet. She charged the case, looked at previous bail and doubled it. To understand the issue more, she and all of our attorneys are overloaded with cases.”
Chisholm talked about problems with the court system, including a backlog of trials, shortages of attorneys and judges, and lack of funding. Those challenges coupled with the pandemic, increased crime and domestic violence cases, and a full jail, are a dangerous combination, according to Chisholm.
“When you’re dealing with such high volume of cases and trials and work load, you are in triage mode every day,” Chisholm said. “Unfortunately, under those conditions, sometimes errors are going to occur.”
TMJ4 found that setting low bails for domestic violence offenders is not uncommon under Chisholm’s leadership. We uncovered 45 felony cases assigned to one district attorney, where bail was set at less than a thousand dollars.
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While Chisholm says he’s not totally against cash bails, he believes creating a system that focuses more on suspect risk assessment would be more effective and equitable.
“Cash bail disproportionately impacts people who don’t have the means to pay, and that is not fair,” Chisholm said.
Milwaukee County Supervisor Patti Logsdon, who has a personal connection to the Waukesha parade tragedy, expressed outrage. She says the bail that was set for Brooks is inexcusable.
“The jail and bail system creates a revolving door in our justice system, in which dangerous criminals are getting out too easily,” Logsdon said. “We need to get aggressive in fixing this. It has to stop.”
“I’m not here to make any excuses,” Chisholm said. “I take responsibility for everyone in my office, and every decision they make.”
Both Chisholm and county supervisors say Thursday’s meeting is just the first conversation on this topic, and the first step in trying to come up with solutions to improve the system.