Wisconsin parade: Lawmakers push for bail reform after Darrell Brooks freed days before Christmas parade attack

A new constitutional amendment would allow judges to consider the danger a defendant poses to the community when setting bail

Megan Sheets
Wednesday 24 November 2021 15:44
Waukesha Parade Suspect Appears In Court

The deadly Christmas parade in Waukesha, Wisconsin, has sparked a fresh push for bail reform after it was revealed suspect Darrell Brooks was released on $1,000 bail just days before the attack.

Tragedy struck the small town outside Milwaukee on Sunday, when an SUV allegedly driven by Mr Brooks barrelled down the parade route, killing six people and wounding at least 47 others.

Court records revealed Mr Brooks has a lengthy rap sheet dating back to 1999 and was charged with recklessly endangering the safety of others three times in less than two years.

The most recent charges came on 5 November, when he allegedly tried to run over the mother of his child with his car.

The Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office recommended a bail of $1,000, which he posted just two days before the parade.

Several Wisconsin lawmakers expressed outrage at the DA’s decision, saying a higher bail could have prevented the loss of life on Sunday.

State Rep Cindi Duchow, a Republican from the town of Delafield, on Tuesday reintroduced a constitutional amendment that would allow judges to consider the danger a defendant poses to the community when setting bail.

“I think it’s a wake-up call for everybody,” Ms Duchow said, according to WISN. “We have got a problem. There are dangerous people that need to be in jail.”

Darrell Brooks is pictured in court on 23 November 2021

Of Mr Brooks, the lawmaker said: “He had a very, very long history. He tried to run over someone else with a car. He should have had a really high bail, which would have made it hard for him to get out.”

On Monday, officials from Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm’s office announced an investigation into the bail recommendations from previous crimes said to involve Mr Brooks.

As for his most recent release, the DA’s office said: “The state’s bail recommendation in this case was inappropriately low in light of the nature of the recent charges and the pending charges against Mr Brooks.”

Ms Duchow contends that Mr Brooks’ case is part of a broader problem with the state’s legal procedure for applying bail.

“Wisconsin continues to see examples of people with extensive criminal histories committing crimes while out on bail,” she said in a news release.

The release states: “Under current law, the Wisconsin Constitution provides that all persons are eligible for release prior to conviction to assure the person’s appearance in court, protect members of the community from serious bodily harm, or prevent the intimidation of witnesses.

“However, commissioners and judges are not to consider the dangerousness or violence of a defendant when deciding how much cash bail to set.”

Ms Duchow argued: “Allowing judges to consider of the safety of the community, seriousness of offense, and previous record of the offender provides another tool to protect both victims and the community while the judicial process plays out.”

This is the third time Ms Duchow has introduced the amendment to the legislature, with the first being in 2017.

It will be co-sponsored in the Senate by Republican Van Wanggaard of Racine, the release said.

The legislation will have to pass two consecutive sessions and be approved by Wisconsin voters in order to become law. Ms Duchow said she hopes to put it on the ballot in the 2023 spring election.

State Sen Melissa Agard, a Democrat from Madison, said she would consider supporting the amendment but wants to wait for the results of the investigation by Mr Chisholm’s office.

“It’s hard to solve the problem when you don’t know what the problem actually is,” Ms Agard said, per WISN.

“Certainly we saw the results of the problem, but we don’t have the full picture at this point.”

Mr Brooks appeared in court on Tuesday afternoon to face five charges of first-degree intentional homicide. Prosecutors said they expect to add another charge by next week after the death of a sixth victim, an eight-year-old boy.

The judge noted Mr Brooks’ extensive criminal history in setting his bail at $5m.

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