On Friday, Waukesha County Court Commissioner Kevin Costello ordered that suspect Darrell E. Brooks Jr. must stand trial for 77 counts, including homicide and reckless endangerment. As Todd Richmond reported for the Associated Press, Costello said that prosecutors presented "ample" evidence against Brooks. The suspect is alleged to have plowed his SUV into a crowd killing six people, including children, during a November 21 Christmas parade. Dozens were also injured.
The tragedy has amplified the issues surrounding so-called bail reform. Brooks was able to allegedly commit these crimes because just hours before he had posted $1,000 bail. Brooks is also alleged to have beaten the mother of his child before the parade tragedy because she did not post bail for him after he was arrested for allegedly trying to run her over with that same SUV.
Democratic Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm blamed the incident on an assistant prosecutor. Gov. Tony Evers (D-WI) has refused to take action against Chisholm though.
From Richmond's reporting:
Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, a Democrat, has taken intense criticism for his office recommending bail be set so low for Brooks.
Chisholm told county officials in December that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a backlog of cases in his office. An evaluation of the risk Brooks posed to the community never made it into his office’s computer system and went unseen, Chisholm said, and a young, overworked assistant prosecutor recommended $1,000 bail for him so she could move on to other cases.
A group of Milwaukee County taxpayers filed a complaint with Gov. Tony Evers in December demanding he remove Chisholm from office. An attorney the Evers administration hired to review the complaint concluded Tuesday that the complaint suffers from technical legal deficiencies and isn’t valid. Evers refused to take any action against Chisholm, a fellow Democrat.
Chisholm has pushed for ending cash bail, saying it’s not fair to poor defendants. He wants a new system in which only violent offenders are jailed until trial.
As Emilee Fannon reported for local news outlet CBS 58 on December 27, Gov. Evers indicated that he wants voters to decide Chisholm's fate, rather than him "kicking someone out of office."
While the report indicates he's open to some bail reform, Evers also said he thinks people should "step back" from Waukesha.
From Fannon's report:
Evers agrees Brooks should have not been out on bail and said he's willing to discuss ways to reform the bail system.
Tough on crime proposals such as bail reform and revoking probation for repeat offenders are top of mind for Republicans to address next year.
One proposal introduced would remove restrictions judges face when it comes to setting bail, by allowing them to consider how dangerous a defendant might be to the public.
"If there are ways we can have a fair way to identify someone is going to be violent going forward and a judge wants to use that, that's fine," Evers said. "I think we need to step back from the [Waukesha] event and get some good ideas out there."
On Wednesday the Wisconsin GOP issued a statement about Evers' refusal to fire Chisholm, which in part read that "Tony Evers failed the community of Waukesha tonight, and families across Wisconsin will be extremely disappointed by his choice. Wisconsinites cannot count on him to keep them safe."
The issue of bail is not unique to Waukesha. As Landon reported earlier this month, the new Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has a particularly soft-on-crime stance which includes reducing serious crimes, like armed robbery, to misdemeanors, and that he is looking to prioritize "diversion and alternatives to incarceration."
Another issue with Brooks has been media bias. As I've covered, both CNN and The Washington Post had particularly problematic coverage of the tragedy in that they emphasized the actions of the SUV, rather than the suspect driving the SUV.
Carma Hassan did report for CNN on Friday about the trial, noting that Brooks is "the man accused of careening his SUV into a Christmas parade in Waukesha, Wisconsin, on November 21, 2021."
The Washington Post, however, went with republishing Richmond's report with the Associated Press.
Brooks will enter a plea deal during his arraignment on February 11. This time he is jailed, on a $5 million bond. He faces life in prison if convicted on any of the homicide charges.