You may remember our March 6 story about exactly who Cook County officials were speaking of when they repeatedly told the media in 2016 and 2017 that hundreds of inmates at Cook County Jail were being held “just because they are poor” and couldn’t afford to put down a bail deposit of $1,000 or less.
The day after we published the story, we received an email from Cara Smith, Chief Policy Officer at the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, whose quotes about “the list” were published in our report.
Our chief editor, Scott Williams, gave her a call. He had just finished looking up the backgrounds of another dozen randomly-selected names on the list.
Smith felt the quotes in our story misrepresented her. Quotes like these:
November 2016 Chicago Tribune: “Currently, 271 people in the jail need $1,000 or less to get out of the jail but don’t have it, [Smith] said.”
October 2016 Sun-Times: Hundreds of people, were sitting in the Cook County Jail because they “don’t have $100 or $500,” as County Sheriff Tom Dart’s Chief Policy Adviser Cara Smith said.
September 18, 2017, Chicago Tribune: “As of Monday, about 300 of the nearly 7,500 detainees in Cook County Jail were unable to post bonds of as little as $1,000 or less, according to Cara Smith, policy chief for Sheriff Tom Dart….”
Referring to the quotes, Smith said, “you don’t know the questions I was asked.”
True. However, “the low bail” or “poor people” list came up time and time again in multiple media outlets over the course of nearly a year and it was referred to by several public officials. Regardless of the questions, the answers often seemed to point to “the list” as evidence that hundreds of people were in the jail merely because they are poor.
Smith also said that the sheriff’s office doesn’t want, for example, the child rapist we found on the “poor list” to go free, she said. Only the non-violent offenders.
So, Williams brought up the elephant in room: After reviewing about 30 people of 268 people on the sheriff’s list of “low bond” inmates who were supposedly being held unfairly, it was clear that the majority of the inmates had been free, but they violated the terms of their release by skipping court, breaking bail bond conditions, or violating their probation.
“Yes,” Smith said, “and then the judge set bail for a minimal amount of money.”
“When an accused person repeatedly skips bail or violates the terms of their release, is the court supposed to just set them free again?” Williams asked.
That, according to Smith, was “a set-up question.”
“Then the judge should set no bail,” Smith responded. “That’s how they do it in D.C.”
We’re not sure how holding a bond violator without bail is a fairer proposition than setting a bail that would require a modest down-payment to motivate them to play by the rules. But that’s what we were told.
Toward the end of their conversation, Smith had a thought, “bond amount may be the wrong measure” of whether someone is unjustly jailed.
Here is a look at another group of randomly-selected inmates who were in jail on September 18, 2017, and needed to put down $1,000 or less to go free. These are the people that Smith, other sheriff’s office staff, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle pointed to when they told the press that hundreds of people were sitting in jail merely because they are poor:
• Charged August 11 with robbing a suburban bank, BD’s bail was set at $5,000. A grand jury later returned a true bill charging him with six counts of armed robbery with a firearm, one count of robbery while indicating the presence of a firearm, and robbing a financial institution. Before the alleged robbery, he was charged with assault in July and trespassing in August. He went AWOL on recognizance bonds in both cases. But, according to the Cook County spin machine, he was jailed on September 18, 2017, for “being poor.”
• CJ was accused of punching and slapping his girlfriend while she slept, spitting on her, and unplugging her phone so she could not call the police. CJ allegedly told the woman “I’m going to kill you in your sleep” and “the police cannot help you now.” He entered jail on September 16 with bail set at $1,000. Two days later, he made the “poor list.” He was freed on September 21.
• MF was accused on August 23 of strangling his girlfriend in Midlothian. Bail was set at $5,000. The court also issued a no-contact order that prevented MF from going to the home he shared with the woman. A friend posted bail for MF on September 18, the same day he made the “poor list.”
• Two-time convicted burglar TK was charged with burglary on August 23. Bail was set at $10,000. A grand jury returned a true bill for burglary and theft on September 11. He made the “just a poor person” list on September 18 and pleaded guilty on October 23. He’s serving a three-year term.
• SJ was freed on a recognizance bond after being charged with selling crack on August 4, 2016. He skipped court and went missing four weeks later. The law caught up with him in March 2017. The judge reversed his previous bond forfeiture ruling and released SJ on another recognizance bond. On July 28, SJ went AWOL again. Police caught up with him on September 12. This time, the judge set bail at $2,500. Six days later, he was on the list of people jailed for merely being poor.
• Last June, state officials working with federal law enforcement charged JV with illegally selling a 45-caliber handgun for $1,360 in Humboldt Park. Bail was set at $300,000. On June 29, the judge reduced bail to $10,000. On July 25, a grand jury returned a true bill of 15 weapons and firearms transfer felonies against JV. On September 18 he made the “jailed because they’re poor” list. He pleaded guilty last month and is currently in prison.
• CE was convicted in March 2017 of aggravated domestic battery. On September 8, he was charged with domestic battery again for repeatedly punching his 66-year-old grandfather in the face. Bail was set at $10,000. Ten days later, he made the “they’re merely poor” list.
• SE was given two years probation for receiving-possessing a stolen motor vehicle in November 2015. In May 2016, the state filed a violation of probation motion and he was released on a recognizance bond. The same thing happened in July 2016. And again in February 2017, when an arrest warrant was issued. The sheriff caught up with him three weeks later. He was released again. April brought another violation of probation filing and another arrest warrant. The sheriff brought him in on July 23. Bond was set at $10,000. Some may say he was in jail because he repeatedly violated the terms of his freedom. Others would have you believe that he was jailed for “being poor.”
• MB was released on a recognizance bond after being charged with two counts of battery on May 23. He skipped bail a month later and went missing until he got arrested on September 14. A judge set bail at $5,000. Four days later, he made the “poor list.”
• Last July, RM allegedly pushed his girlfriend, removed his shirt, wrapped it around her face to restrict her breathing, struck her in the head and face repeatedly with a wooden chair, and then threw her to the floor several times. A repeat felon, RM’s bail was set at $7,500. He remained jailed until September 23, when someone posted bond for him.
• AS was charged in January 2017 with possession of narcotics and resisting police, he was released on a recognizance bond. He skipped bail and went missing until February 21. Bail was then set at $2,000, requiring a $200 deposit. He paid it and went AWOL again. Back in custody on September 14, bail was set at $3,000. On September 19, the day after making “the poor list,” he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 7 days.
• In January 2017, EH was charged with stealing cleaning supplies from a Chicago hospital. He was released on a recognizance bond and eventually received a conditional discharge after pleading guilty. Then, on August 27, he was charged with stealing a significant amount of linen from a suburban hospital. Bail was set at $5,000 for the new theft case and for violating the terms of his release on the first case. According to some Cook County officials, he was in jail on September 18 because he was “poor.” Others may suggest that he was in jail for violating the terms of his freedom.
We’ll have another installment of “the poor list” later this week.
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