Plenty of blame to go around in the Darrell Brooks case


This past December I went door-to-door helping former Franklin alderman Steve Taylor collect signatures from residents on nomination papers for a Milwaukee County Board seat.

On one of my stops an individual came outside to talk, and after requesting some basic background on Taylor asked about his feelings on the calls for criminal justice reform following the Waukesha Christmas Parade mass murders.

I replied that I couldn’t really speak specifically for Taylor on this whereupon I was immediately interrupted.

“Well what do you think about it?”

I told the homeowner that given what we knew it seemed serious errors were made and changes might be necessary, etc., etc. Surely, the Milwaukee County Board will be reviewing and considering this matter.

The individual then got testy saying, and I’m paraphrasing, ‘That’s what I don’t understand. Why isn’t anyone putting blame on the (driver of the van)? They’re blaming everyone else except the person responsible.’

I responded that it was very promising the accused was now facing serious charges.

Eventually the homeowner gruffly refused to sign the nomination paper, I said it was nice talking with you, have a good day, and walked on to the next house (BTW, Taylor got far more signatures than needed and will assume office next month).

Later I learned the individual I spoke with is an assistant district attorney with Milwaukee County, and obviously in denial, big time. Quite revealing, don’t you think?

I thought about this encounter as I read an investigation this week in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that reads, in part:
The case of Darrell Brooks Jr., accused of killing six people and injuring more than 60 at the Waukesha Christmas Parade, has sparked a movement for harsher bail rules in Wisconsin. 

But Brooks wasn’t free that November day just because of low bail — he was free because police agencies, judges and court employees across three states failed to communicate for years, a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel investigation found.

The day of the parade attack, Brooks had two open felony cases in Milwaukee County, a civil warrant in Waukesha County, an open criminal warrant out of Nevada and an open criminal case in Georgia.

Each of those agencies had a chance to keep him behind bars.

Each failed. 

As his life repeatedly intersected with the criminal justice system, those operating within it — police, prosecutors, judges and others — made decisions with incomplete information that led to disastrous consequences. 

An overloaded, early-career prosecutor recommended Brooks to be held on $1,000 bail — an amount later described as “inappropriately low” by her boss, Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm.

Brooks faced two felony charges and three misdemeanors after being accused of driving over his girlfriend’s leg in the same SUV police say was later used in the Waukesha attack. A Milwaukee County court commissioner, Cedric Cornwall, agreed with the prosecutor and set $1,000 bail.

Since the parade tragedy, state lawmakers have proposed a constitutional amendment to broaden the use of cash bail. Others have suggested reworking the state’s preventive detention law — the only way to hold someone without bail right now — or getting rid of cash bail altogether and detaining only those deemed dangerous.

But the focus on bail has overshadowed the other ways the criminal justice system failed to hold Brooks accountable.

It’s impossible to say for sure what would have changed if police, prosecutors, court officials and others had a full picture of Brooks’ warrants and arrest history at their fingertips.

Maybe he still would have been free on Nov. 21, the day of the Waukesha Christmas Parade.

Or maybe he would have been behind bars.

You can read the MJS article here (subscription required).

One thought on “Plenty of blame to go around in the Darrell Brooks case

  1. Pingback: My Most Popular Blogs (03/21/22) | This Just In… From Franklin, WI

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