Another gullible journalist

Was Chicago cop actually released on a $1.5 million bond?

It’s been widely reported that the Chicago police officer who is facing a first-degree murder charge for shooting a teen 16 times posted bail and was released on a $1.5 million bond. I am not so sure that this is an accurate thing to say.

What happens if Van Dyke flees?

What happens if Van Dyke flees?

By way of background, Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke was charged with the October 20, 2014 murder of Laquan McDonald. The dashcam video that shows the teen being shot is damning evidence. Even Van Dyke’s own defense attorney concedes: “When you see the video alone, it does not seem like a justifiable shooting.” But of course, in America everyone is presumed to be innocent.

At Van Dyke’s bond hearing, which was held earlier this week, Judge Donald Panarese Jr.watched the dashcam video and listened to testimony that Van Dyke is no threat to the public safety and should therefore be given a bond. According to news reports, the Judge set bail in the amount of $1.5 million dollars. A few hours after the bail hearing, friends and family of the accused cop posted the bond and Van Dyke was released from the Cook County jail.

I know what it means when I post a $1.5 million dollar bond to guarantee a defendant’s appearance. I am much less sure what it means when Van Dyke posted his $1.5 million dollar bond. Illinois is one of a very small number of states that do not allow commercial bail bonds. What thousands of licensed and well-regulated bondsman across the United States, including myself, do for a living is not allowed in Chicago. So how do they manage bail in Chicago? As best I can tell, and as was reported, friends, family members and fellow police officers brought $150,000 (10% of the bail amount set by the judge) in cash to the jail. Instead of private bondsmen, the Cook County Sherriff’s Department of Corrections provides their own bonding facility controlled by the Clerk of Cook County to accommodate family members of incarcerated detainees to post bond on site from 9:00AM to 8:30PM.

You can go there in person during their business hours (as Van Dyke’s friends and fellow officers presumably did to post his bail) but evidently you cannot get them to answer their telephone. For the past week I have been calling the Cook County Bonding Facility at (773) 674- 2276. When you dutifully follow the prompts to obtain bonding information they play a recording for 15 or 20 minutes and then hang up on you. It happens every time. (I am embarrassed to tell you how many times I tried this.) So I cannot say with complete certainty how bail works in Chicago because I cannot even get them to answer the phone. But I have a pretty good guess how they do it.

What, exactly, does Van Dyke’s $1.5 million dollar bond mean? What happens if Jason Van Dyke fails to appear for trial (the primary purpose of his bail) and becomes a fugitive? My theory is that in the event of this occurring, the judge will issue a warrant for Van Dyke’s arrest and also forfeit his bond.

When a private bail bondman writes a bail bond for $1.5 million — in Florida, for example — he or she has 60 days in which to locate, apprehend and surrender the fugitive back to jail. (In other states the time-frame may be different but the obligation remains the same.) If they fail in that obligation, they pay the entire forfeited bail amount of $1.5 million to the State. The entire amount (here in Florida at least) being provided as security for the bail is guaranteed by a solvent and well-regulated insurance company. The State is absolutely assured that they will get either the fugitive or the entire cash amount of the forfeited bail bond as a penalty for not getting the fugitive. Period. The bondsman has a strong and very real economic incentive to make sure that the defendant appears.

What of Chicago? In all likelihood, if Van Dyke absconds and his bond is forfeited, his family and fellow officers will likely get a bill for $1.5 million from the Cook County Clerk. Do you think they will pay it? My guess is that Cook County collects forfeited bonds about as effectively as they answer the telephone at their Bonding Facility. When government agencies attempt to run publicly-funded bail programs, historically they usually do virtually nothing to collect on forfeited bail money.

Who will chase Van Dyke if he flees? Is it realistic for anyone to think that his friends, family and fellow police officers will go after him if he becomes a fugitive? These are, after all, probably the same folks that would be suspected of helping him to abscond in the first place. And does anyone really believe that these fellow police officers would be willing and/or able to pay the $1.5 million forfeited bond amount?

For decades the City of Philadelphia ran a similar public bail racket. “Bail judgments just aren’t paid off unless something miraculous happens,” said David D. Wasson, chief deputy court administrator. Philadelphia wrote off over a billion dollars as noncollectable. I would ask Cook County how much they wrote off in forfeited bail if someone would ever answered their telephone.

The press is making a serious mistake when they without thinking repeat that Van Dyke posted a $1.5 million bond. His bond is a mockery of the bail system. What actually occurred is that friends and family of the accused murderer paid $150,000.00 to get Jason Van Dyke out of the Cook County jail. That’s a far cry from a real bondsman actually posting $1.5 million in real money to secure and guarantee his appearance.

 

Another reporter gets duped by pretrial release progam

I wonder if anyone in central Florida watched the hatchet job that recently aired (November 5, 2015) on Channel 9 wftv.com

The piece was titled9investigatesbanner: “9 Investigates the high cost of keeping people in jail” and opened with a breathless news anchor Martie Salt exclaiming: “It’s costing you millions of dollars a year to lock up people who haven’t even been convicted of a crime yet.”

“Nine investigates: Follow the money that’s working to keep the county jail full year round.”

Co-anchor Bob Opsahl chimed in: “As investigative reporter Christopher Heath discovered, jail and bail is big money! And you’re paying for it!” 

Curiously, Heath opened his “investigative” report with the criminal case of Greg Dodge. According to Heath, Dodge drove drunk and killed a 10-year old girl when he drove into a parked car on the turnpike. After he was arrested for this heinous crime, Dodge put up bond. He pledged his own assets and those of his parents and posted bond through a bail agent – meaning he was released at no cost to the taxpayers. The bail agent insured that Dodge appeared for his trial where he was sentenced and sent to prison – meaning the bail agent did his or her job. Again, at no cost to the taxpayers.  This point did not fit Heath’s narrative and so instead he strangely used this case to illustrate that unlike Dodge, some accused criminals might not be able to use their family’s resources to post bond.

Incidentally, Dodge served a substantial prison sentence for his crime. The private bail agent fulfilled his obligation to the court by ensuring Dodge’s appearance.

Heath’s crackerjack reporting also revealed the following:

  •  “Volusia County has a robust pretrial release program.”              
  • “It’s (the Volusia pretrial program) looked to release suspects with non-violent offenses, monitoring them until their court date, saving the county $60 per day. “
  • “Volusia County estimates it saves about $3 million a year through its use of pretrial release.”

Heath reached this bizarre conclusion: “If pretrial release is so effective in Volusia why do more than half of the counties in Florida not have the same program?”

Here are a few questions for Heath that I would love to see answered:

  • Is killing a 10-year-old girl while driving drunk considered a “non-violent” offense?
  • Since Greg Dodge was out on a private bond, didn’t the bonding agency also save the county $60 per day? How much did the bail agent charge the county for those savings? Do you think a defendant with nothing at risk would voluntarily appear when he is facing a sentence of decades in prison?

Here are some facts that Heath somehow missed: according to their own records, Volusia County’s pretrial release program released 4,089 defendants in 2013. The budget for this program was $1,317,422, which comes out to a cost to the taxpayers of approximately $322 per released defendant. According to the program’s own records, 31% of the defendants released to their program were also released on private bonds. Of course the bail agents did not charge taxpayers anything to affect these 1,268 releases. Every single defendant who was released on bond (How many were there, Mr. Heath?) saved Volusia county over $60 per day, at no cost to the taxpayers.

 “While Volusia County hails its program as a success that saves taxpayers money while keeping people out of jail, state leaders have not been nearly as supportive of the program.”

Heath suggests that the reason these government programs are not expanding quickly enough is because bail agents have supposedly given a whopping $280,000 to Florida politicians since 2010. If true, this works out to $56,000 per year. Given that there are about 2,400 hard-working private taxpaying licensed bail agents in Florida, it works out to approximately a $23 donation per agent per year.  The pretrial program in Volusia County alone costs over $1.3 million annually.

Here are questions for anyone interested in actually conducting an investigation, as opposed to repeating what the government program lobbyist spoon feeds you: How many open felony bench warrants are there currently in Volusia County?  If all the people who are released to this program are so well “monitored” and “supervised” why the thousands of open warrants?

When a person on bond fails to appear, the bail agent apprehends the fugitive. If unsuccessful in returning the fugitive, the bail agent pays a substantial penalty for failures to appear. What happens when a person released to the program fails to appear?

Shame on Christopher Heath and Channel 9 in Orlando. Your story should have been about why are taxpayers posting bogus bail bonds for accused criminals?

If you’re looking for real reporting this week, try the Albuquerque Journal. The headline is slightly misleading but the reporting is real.  When a drunk driver fled, the only one interested in returning him to justice was the bondsman, who tracked down his man in a neighboring state and returned him to justice.

“We provide hundreds of jobs, pay millions in taxes, provide community safety and get people to court so justice can be done,” says Albuquerque bail bondsman Gerald Madrid, president of the Bail Bond Association of New Mexico and a member of a family with three generations in the bail business across the state.