Tragically, during the recent apprehension of a fugitive felon, a woman named Vonceia Welch was shot. First news reports suggest that the shooting was accidental. Welch was a passenger in the same car as a fugitive who was being sought by bail agents. The fugitive, Deveon Stokes, was taken into custody. The driver of the car, Joshua Allonso Malone, was also a wanted fugitive and was arrested by police after the shooting.
News reports state that a team of 3 or 4 bail agents caught up with their fugitive in a car at the drive-up window of a St. Petersburg McDonalds. When the bail agents surrounded and approached the car a gun was discharged and Welch was injured.
The man they were after, Stokes, has a lengthy criminal history dating to 2007. He served 20 months in prison on charges of extortion and grand theft of a motor vehicle. He was released in May 2014, and was arrested a month later, and this time accused of cocaine possession. His most recent arrest was in June. When he failed to appear for a pretrial hearing on his drug case, a new warrant for his arrest was issued and his $21,000 bond was forfeited by the court. Malone, the sedan’s driver, was wanted on unrelated aggravated assault and firearm possession charges from an Oct. 19 incident where police said he shot at three people, one of them a toddler. By any reasonable measuring stick, these two are each bad actors and potentially very dangerous criminals.
None of this, of course, justifies the shooting of the car’s other passenger, Vonceia Welch. No one yet knows for certain what took place when the shooting occurred. The state is looking into the possibility of criminal charges against the bail agent who fired the shoot. There almost certainly will follow civil actions. The facts are not yet known, and an investigation by the police and state attorney is underway.
The absence of any direct knowledge of the situation hasn’t deterred one of commercial bail’s most vociferous critics from weighing in with his special brand of utter nonsense. Timothy Murray, a hypocrite who for decades fronted a publicly-funded DC outfit called “The Pretrial Justice Institute,” felt compelled to weigh in on this tragedy in order to promote his lame-brained agenda. Murray called the shooting “tragically emblematic of how broken the cash bail bond system is.”
“It [money bail] was never designed to make the community safe. There is no accountability,” he said, adding that bail money goes “directly into the pockets of businessmen.”
Murray went on to say that the system is supposed to guarantee someone who has made bail shows up to court. But it doesn’t work, he said, otherwise bond agents wouldn’t have anyone to chase. “The very thing that was supposed to assure his appearance — cash on the table — he didn’t do it,” he said.
Even Murray cannot possibly be stupid or obtuse enough to believe what he is saying. Rather, he is being purposefully disingenuous by claiming that if commercial bail worked, bail agents wouldn’t have to “chase” fugitives. Murray disregards that this is precisely why commercial secured bail works — because bail agents have a vested financial interest in making certain that their defendants appear in court.
Regardless of the tragedy that took place, this team of bail agents risked their own lives in order to bring a dangerous fugitive to justice. The reason they apprehended and arrested Deveon Stokes and returned him to the Pinellas County jail is to avoid paying a $21,000 penalty for failing to fulfill their obligation to the state of Florida on the bond.
For decades, Tim Murray has advocated for the “free” pretrial release of accused criminals. The most significant problem with this approach beyond the waste of tax dollars needed in order to staff these ineffective government programs is that when a defendant fails to appear in court, no one is held accountable. It’s a sucker’s bet that Tim Murray and his fellow “free bail” zealots will never be involved in a shooting during the apprehension of a fugitive. This is because they don’t ever attempt to bring back fugitives. If you ask one of these free pretrial advocates “what do you do when they fail to appear in court?” you are most often met with a glassy-eyed, dumbfounded stare. Typically, they will shrug and guess that since a warrant is issued, maybe the police will make an arrest?
Timmy Murray started out his career — the entirety of which seems to have been spent on the public dole — in Miami-Dade County, Florida where he helped set up the nation’s first drug court. For 14 years he headed up the county’s “free” pretrial release program, and affected the wholesale release from jail of thousands of accused felons. As a result, Miami-Dade County currently has literally tens of thousands of open felony warrants and a budget that only allows law enforcement to actively seek out the worst of the worst. Drug court is considered by many criminals as a complete joke – they know they will be released from jail for free and that there will be little or no consequences for non-compliance. The program allows defendants to get of jail for free and to commit violations over and over and over again with virtually no consequence. No one is held accountable for their non-appearance in court.
Murray also never misses an opportunity (like this shooting) to rant his misguided belief that commercial secured bail keeps poor low level offenders “trapped” in jail while those with money have a way out – even when facing more serious charges. This is complete bunk. Deveon Stokes is not affluent yet he and his family were easily able to obtain the services of a bail agent to secure his release from jail. Bail agents routinely allow their clients to make payments. The family of the accused (as opposed to the taxpayers) pays a small percentage of the bail. However, the bail agent pledges the entire amount ($21,000 in this case) to the state as security. If the bail agent fails to produce the defendant he or she pays a substantial penalty to the state.
In contrast to Murray’s drivel, the reporter also sought out St. Petersburg police Chief Tony Holloway who said that police generally have a “very good working relationship” with bail bondsmen.
The reporter also contacted Armando Roche, past president of the Professional Bail Agents of the United States.”The arrest by bail bondsmen of people that fail to go to court occurs every single day across this country,” he said. “Not to the extent of what happened in St. Pete today, but these arrests are effectuated every day.”
Typically, when an accused criminal fails to appear as required in court, a judge issues a warrant for their arrest. If the defendant is on a secured commercial bail, a bail agent goes looking for them, makes an arrest and brings them back to custody. If they are released via one of Tim Murray’s government programs, a warrant is issued and hopefully the defendant will one day run into law enforcement.
Which alternative is a better deal for taxpayers?