Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm made sure to emphasize how seriously his office takes suspects’ pre-trial risk assessments during a county Board of Supervisor’s Judicial and Public Safety Committee meeting that was live-streamed on Thursday.
The meeting focused on the Waukesha Christmas parade massacre and defendant Darrell Brooks Jr., who is accused of plowing his red Ford SUV through the parade route, taking the lives of six people, including an 8-year-old boy and members of the beloved Milwaukee Dancing Grannies, and injuring more than 60 others.
Specifically, the meeting addressed how a registered sex offender who was already facing serious felony charges in two different open Milwaukee cases and whose rap sheet included reckless endangerment with a dangerous weapon, illegal gun and drug possession, domestic violence, bail jumping, and more somehow managed to be out on a $1,000 cash bail.
Juxtaposed with these facts, Chisholm’s assurances rang hollow. After all, Milwaukee County had done a risk assessment on Brooks, and it was fraught with red flags. The assessments assign two risk levels — one for “failure to appear” for trial and one for “new criminal activity” — based on nine key factors. Brooks scored a four out of six for risk of not appearing at trial and a whopping six out of six, the highest possible risk, for committing new crimes.
Despite these risks, Brooks was released on a measly cash bail amount that the soft-on-crime DA later admitted was “inappropriately low” after the massacre.
Yet during the Thursday meeting, Chisholm blamed high caseloads in Milwaukee brought on by a lockdown-induced backlog of people awaiting trial, and made excuses about his office not having enough time or resources to log the pre-trial assessment so it could be consulted before Brooks was released.
But even pre-trial assessments are a hairy area. Although they are not technically disallowed, state law hasn’t authorized them. In 2018, a legislative study committee discussed these risk-assessment tools and decided to authorize them, but bill then failed to pass the state Senate in 2020. Therefore, since the bill to authorize them failed, they are arguably not authorized.
Furthermore, although people charged with crimes are guaranteed bail, the Wisconsin Constitution actually prohibits judges from considering an alleged offender’s record and community safety when determining the bail amount. The only thing a judge can really consider when setting bail is the likelihood of the accused returning to trial. The severity of the crime and the likelihood of reoffense cannot be considered.
That leaves Milwaukee County with two huge problems: a state constitution that doesn’t allow courts to consider enough risk factors when setting bail, and a leftist prosecutor who doesn’t appear to care about risk factors. After all, Chisholm is a man who went on record saying that his criminal justice “reforms” were “guaranteed” to kill someone — or in this case, allegedly six someones —yet he proceeded with them anyway.
“Is there going to be an individual I divert, or I put into [a] treatment program, who’s going to go out and kill somebody?” Chisholm flippantly told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2007. “You bet. Guaranteed. It’s guaranteed to happen. It does not invalidate the overall approach.”
NEW: In first public comments since Waukesha massacre, Milwaukee DA Chisholm says he's "angry," "frustrated" by the "circumstances that have impacted so many people."
Those circumstances were his low cash bail policies that he previously said would kill people, "guaranteed."
— Kylee Zempel (@kyleezempel) December 2, 2021
Pair this problematic prosecutor with a flawed state constitutional approach to bail, and the outcomes are deadly. The people of Waukesha are now paying the price.
That’s why Wisconsin not only needs to rid itself of prosecutors like Chisholm, but it also needs to amend its constitution to allow courts to consider crucial factors when setting bail. Some GOP lawmakers are trying to do just that.
If an amendment from state Sen. Van Wanggaard, who chairs the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety, and Republican Rep. Cindi Duchow passes, it would allow courts to consider the seriousness of the charged offense, the accused’s prior criminal record and history of violence, and community safety, as well as the probability of the accused returning for trial and the prevention of witness intimidation.
Wanggaard’s chief of staff Scott Kelly told The Federalist that “the timing is right” for this amendment in light of Milwaukee County’s poor track record and now the tragedy in Waukesha — and he’s hopeful the amendment will pass.
We should all hope it does, because Chisholm made one thing pretty clear during his remarks on Thursday: He’s more interested in making excuses for what happened in Waukesha than in making sure nothing like that ever happens in our state again.