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Video shows moment parade killings suspect is arrested
02:24 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

The Milwaukee County district attorney whose office sought low bail leading to the release of the man accused of running over holiday paradegoers in a nearby suburb has been a longtime champion of efforts to reduce mass incarceration by using the discretion afforded prosecutors.

Darrell E. Brooks, 39, of Milwaukee, now faces murder charges after authorities said he killed six people and wounded more than 60 others by driving through the Waukesha Christmas parade on Sunday. Brooks was out on bail for two separate allegations of violence, including one where he is accused of using a car to run over a woman less than three weeks earlier.

Milwaukee prosecutor John Chisholm’s office released a statement Monday morning, saying his office erred in seeking bail of $1,000 in the most recent case involving violent allegations against Brooks. He posted bail about a week after he was charged and was released from custody.

“The State’s bail recommendation in this case was inappropriately low in light of the nature of the recent charges and the pending charges against Mr. Brooks,” according to the statement. “The bail recommendation in this case is not consistent with the approach of the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office toward matters involving violent crime, nor was it consistent with the risk assessment of the defendant prior to setting of bail.”

The statement from Chisholm’s office said they were “conducting an internal review of the decision to make the recent bail recommendation.”

State law sets out factors for judges to consider in setting bail amounts, including whether someone’s likely to return to court and whether they’re likely to hurt other people, said Julie Rendelman, a former prosecutor of homicides who’s now a defense attorney. One of the charges Brooks faced earlier this month was for not returning to court, and another was for an allegation of violence.

“It looks like they just screwed up,” Rendelman said. “They dropped the ball, it really is that simple. I don’t think it speaks to bail reform.”

Prosecutors across the country this year have confronted a logistical challenge caused by the pandemic, balancing the need to move cases through the system with the risks of exposure that comes with defendants going to court and jail.

Officials have sought ways to keep defendants out of the system while still respecting the serious nature of allegations against defendants; in some jurisdictions it’s led to lower-than-normal bail requests or bail amounts in order to keep defendants out of jail. In some cases, those requests dovetail with prosecutor offices whose approach to defendants is more lenient than prosecutors have been for decades. It’s not clear what role that may have played here.

Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm acknowledged the bail for the suspect in the Waukesha parade tragedy was too low in a previous case.

His prosecutorial philosophy, explained

Chisholm took office in 2007 after working for years as a prosecutor and holding a senior position under his predecessor, E. Michael McCann, who held that office for 38 years. McCann endorsed Chisholm as a successor in 2006. Chisholm ran unopposed in 2020.

In an interview in 2015 with The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin, a current CNN legal analyst, Chisholm said 10% of 15% of cases prosecutors handle were for homicide and gun crimes. The rest were for less serious crime – the difference between “people who scare us” and “people who irritate the hell out of us,” he said.

“The most important thing we can do with those people is incapacitate them, so they can’t do any more harm,” he told Toobin.

Part of his approach was reducing the number of people Milwaukee County was sending to state prison for low-level drug offenses, but attempts to reduce racial disparities in prosecution and sentencing have been complicated by the racial makeup of violent crime victims and offenders, Chisholm said.

“We’re no longer sending low-level drug offenders to state prison, but we are still sending violent criminals, and that’s keeping the African-American numbers up,” Chisholm told Toobin. “If we do this right, the people who are going to prison should be going to prison. The people who are going to prison are dangerous.”

After he won election in 2006, Chisholm told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel the next year that it was “guaranteed” that someone his office diverted from jail would go on to kill someone.