Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat running for re-election in a key swing state, picked a convicted felon who also faces open armed robbery and gun possession charges to serve on his Juvenile Justice Commission before reversing course and dropping him once the media started asking questions about the appointment.
In late July, Evers selected Aundray Evans, 24, to serve as a “youth member” of the governor’s Juvenile Justice Commission even though he was charged in 2019 with armed robbery, theft of movable property, possession of cocaine, resisting or obstructing an officer and, in a separate case, being a felon in possession of a firearm.
According to a criminal complaint, Evans and a codefendant arranged for a man to sell them his handgun in a Walmart parking lot. When he showed up, the two stole his car, gun, wallet, and cell phone and then drove in the stolen car to meet another man for a purported gun sale a few blocks away. They robbed him as well and took off in the stolen car.
When Milwaukee police pulled them over a short time later, Evans took off on foot, tossing one of the stolen guns as he ran. Officers recovered the gun and arrested Evans, who allegedly had 1.7 grams of cocaine in his pocket.
Because of the Covid-19 lockdowns, the case was adjourned for several months in 2020 and will proceed to trial in October.
The case is remarkably similar to Evans’ first criminal conviction. In 2015, when he was a juvenile, he was charged as an adult with theft of movable property after setting up a gun sale and then robbing the would-be seller. He pleaded guilty and spent 10 months in prison.
In 2016, while still on probation, he was arrested and charged with theft of movable property. His probation was revoked, and he was remanded to prison. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to an additional six months in jail. He remained on probation at the time of his 2019 charges.
Evers has not yet said whether he was aware of the open cases against Evans when he appointed him to the commission, which Evers restarted shortly after he was sworn into office in 2019.
“I am excited to recreate the Juvenile Justice Commission as a space for discussing innovations and best practices that Wisconsin should adopt across the entire spectrum of the juvenile justice system,” he said at the time. “In addition to focusing on system-based reform, we must invest in front-end reforms that prevent our kids from becoming part of the juvenile justice system in the first place.”
Twenty percent of the commission is comprised of youth members like Evans who are under the age of 28, and three slots are reserved for members who are or at one time had been in the juvenile justice system themselves.
Although juvenile records in Wisconsin are sealed, a spokesman for Evers confirmed that Evans was in the juvenile justice system before he was first charged in adult court in 2015 and that this experience formed the basis for his selection to the Juvenile Justice Commission.
However, law enforcement officials immediately objected to the pick, raising concerns behind the scenes about a felon facing open gun and robbery charges serving on a state justice commission, but these were ignored. Only when members of the media began asking questions about the appointment did Evers rescind it. He has not publicly commented on the controversy.
“This is outrageous,” said Tim Michels, the Republican gubernatorial nominee who will face Evers in November’s election. “It’s just the latest outrageous example of his soft-on-crime mindset. Communities in Wisconsin will never become safer with Tony Evers as governor.”
In June, Evers asked for and received the resignation of his Parole Commission chairman, John Tate, amid a firestorm of outrage over Tate’s approval of parole for a man convicted of the murder of his wife Johanna Balsewicz in front of their two young children in 1997.
Doug Balsewicz had served fewer than 25 years of an 80-year sentence, and he was considered so dangerous that the trial judge took the extraordinary step of writing a letter to future parole boards urging them not to let Balsewicz out of prison.
Tate ignored this advice and ordered Balsewicz to be released in May. Balsewicz’s family immediately launched a public crusade to have Evers reverse Tate’s decision, which he did later that month. When the controversy did not die down and became a major talking point in the Republican gubernatorial primary, Evers demanded Tate’s resignation in early June.
Michels, who won the primary in early August, said both the Tate and Evans affairs prove that Evers lacks the judgment to keep Wisconsinites safe.
“Violent crime is as bad as we can remember,” he said. “Tony Evers can’t or won’t crack down on criminals. I will.”