How a Nonprofit Bail Fund Frees Violent Criminals?
Seems like a great idea, except for the part about freeing violent repeat offenders on an unsuspecting public. Oh well!
Honestly, I don't think victims of crimes are the real victims here. It's the poor criminals who are simply acting out their insecurities.
How a Nonprofit Bail Fund Frees Violent Criminals
Seattle’s Northwest Community Bail Fund says it considers ‘gender status’ but not a criminal record.
By Jillian Kay Melchior, WSJ
Updated Dec. 30, 2022 6:31 pm ET
The push to defund the police might have peaked after George Floyd’s murder in 2020, but a related movement is still going strong. As riots swept America’s cities, then-Sen. Kamala Harris and others appealed for donations to nonprofits dedicated to springing arrested protesters from jail and bailing out the poor. These bail funds existed before 2020, but they’ve since become big business—and in some cases undermine public safety.
A case in point is the Seattle-based Northwest Community Bail Fund, established in 2018 “to post bail on behalf of indigent individuals who have been charged and held on inaccessible bail while awaiting trial.” The group experienced a windfall in 2020, hauling in more than $5.7 million. It posted more than $2.8 million in bail for 696 people that year, up from around $377,000 for 227 defendants in 2019. It hasn’t released figures for 2021 and 2022.
Some defendants the bail fund has assisted have allegedly gone on to commit additional crimes, including violent ones. Three have been charged with murder. Among them is Kylan Houle, 32, who had two felony gun charges outstanding when he allegedly shot and killed Damon Allen, 62, in May 2022. Just before he was shot Allen had told a 911 operator someone was trying to break into his home.
Mr. Houle had “amassed well over 20 additional criminal convictions,” including felony assault and burglary, and had failed to appear in court more than 50 times, according to King County prosecutors. Despite his record, the Northwest Community Bail Fund posted $10,000 in bail for him on Dec. 4, 2021, when he was charged with first-degree unlawful possession of a firearm, possession of a stolen vehicle and attempting to elude a pursuing police vehicle; and another $100 in bail on Jan. 27, 2022, when he was charged with first-degree unlawful possession of a firearm, according to court records. Those charges are still pending. Mr. Houle has pleaded not guilty to all these charges, and his lawyers didn’t respond to my queries.
The fund declined my interview request but said in a statement that as it makes bail decisions, it considers factors including “availability of funds,” “Covid outbreaks in jail,” “separation of families” and a defendant’s “ability to afford bail amount, health factors, pregnancy, impending loss of job, housing or shelter bed, race” and “gender status.” The list didn’t include prior criminal record.
Among other questions, I asked in an email whether the nonprofit considers any charges or criminal history disqualifying. Becky Errera, the fund’s executive director, replied that my queries indicated a lack of “understanding of the existing criminal legal system as regards bail.” She included a tip sheet for media titled “Don’t Be a Copagandist” that claims “policing is fundamentally brutal and violent,” “doesn’t prevent or intervene on violence,” and “was designed—to control people and protect capital.”
Meantime, crime in Seattle has surged. By Dec. 30, according to police, the city had recorded 56 homicides in 2022, up from 36 in 2019. Last year violent crime in Seattle rose 20% and property crime 9% over 2020’s already elevated levels. That includes a surge in retail theft, about which the bail fund’s director of advocacy, Chanel Rhymes, took a casual attitude during a recent forum. “Somebody stealing from a store is not really lawlessness,” she said. “That’s not really harming you. It’s harming the business, but is it—I mean they have insurance. . . . Most people are not out there just stealing for the heck of it. They’re stealing for needs.”
In August 2022 the fund posted $3,500 to bail out Erik Harvey, 24, for six theft cases, all of which are still pending. Mr. Harvey pleaded not guilty to all six. The Seattle city attorney’s office, which handles misdemeanor cases, says Mr. Harvey is one of the area’s most prolific shoplifters; since May 2021 he has accumulated 22 cases in the region, including a felony burglary charge to which he has also pleaded not guilty. There’s a warrant out from the King County Superior Court now for Mr. Harvey, who didn’t respond to an inquiry sent to an email address listed for him in public records.
The King County prosecuting attorney’s office, which handles Seattle felonies, says 374 of its defendants have been bailed out by the fund since mid-2020. The fund has posted bail on behalf of defendants after arrests for child rape, death threats, residential burglaries, hate crimes and assault with a deadly weapon, among other serious offenses.
The fund says on its website that “there is no cost or other obligation to the person receiving bail assistance” and “we will not ask you to pay us back or to sign a surety.” Nearly 52% of the defendants it bailed out since mid-2020 subsequently failed to appear in court, and 20.6% were later charged with a felony in King County, data from the prosecutor’s office show. Among defendants during the same period who didn’t receive the fund’s help, 21.9% failed to appear and 15.1% were charged with a new felony in King County.
“They’re just throwing money out for whoever, and it’s putting everybody at risk, everybody,” says Lia Kendall, whose sister, Devan Schmidt, was found dead in her Seattle home in 2015. A medical examiner wrote that “the scene and the surrounding circumstances are concerning for homicidal violence and asphyxia cannot be ruled out.”
Erick Sims, 49, was convicted of assaulting Schmidt but acquitted of murder after “a lethal level of cocaine” and “very large” quantities of other drugs were found in the victim’s stomach and the medical examiner couldn’t determine the cause of death. Mr. Sims had a long criminal record, including convictions related to domestic violence, assault, unlawful possession of a firearm, burglary and criminal trespass, according to court records.
For Schmidt’s assault, Mr. Sims was sentenced to 17 months in prison with credit for time served in jail. He served less than a week in prison in November 2021 and was conditionally released on parole, according to the Corrections Department.
On May 15, 2022, Mr. Sims allegedly threw rocks “at various passing and parked cars” and “innocent bystanders,” prosecutors said. The next month he allegedly “broke into a building, barricaded himself in the bathroom, caused extensive damage” and “threatened harm to anyone who tried to come into that room,” according to prosecutors. He was charged with malicious mischief and burglary and has pleaded not guilty. His lawyer didn’t respond to my request for comment.
Schmidt’s family warned the Northwest Community Bail Fund in July that bailing out Mr. Sims would be “a disservice to him and society” because his “mental state is extremely unstable” and “his violence could explode at any time.”
Mr. Sims is out on $15,000 bail, which the Northwest Community Bail Fund posted last month. Ms. Kendall says her family asked the bail fund for a heads-up if it bailed out Mr. Sims, but “they never notified us.” As of Friday afternoon, there was an active warrant out for Mr. Sims from the Department of Corrections for failing to report to his parole officer. Ms. Kendall says she is worried enough to send her children’s schools his mug shot: “We all live looking over our shoulders, just to be on the safe side.”
Ms. Melchior is a member of the Journal editorial board.