|Online, the Trib headline was “Cash bail under fire
as discriminatory while poor inmates languish in jail”
In late 2016, as Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart began ramping up his campaign to rid the county jail of persons he claimed were incarcerated merely because they couldn’t afford bail, the Chicago Tribune introduced its readers to James Williams, Jr.
In a full-page story on page A6, Williams was held out as a perfect example of someone who was in jail for a minor charge because he couldn’t afford to post $1,000 to get out.
Later that same day, an “associate” posted Williams’ bail, setting him free. Williams subsequently filed a motion to hire a private attorney (something “poor people” aren’t known to do) and he then went AWOL. Williams hasn’t been seen by the courts since last September. A warrant is out for his arrest.
This month, CWBChicago learned that a woman was also arrested in the same case as Williams and their charges were nearly identical. The court allowed her to go free on a recognizance bond. The Tribune did not tell you about her. We will.
Come along for the story of James Williams Jr, the now-missing poster child for bail reform in Cook County.
On November 20, 2015, Williams was 43-years-old when police arrested him for allegedly selling crack cocaine to an undercover cop directly outside the entrance to Henderson Elementary School in Englewood.
“Low-level drug offenders in Cook County are typically freed on bail without posting cash,” the Tribune would later report, “but in court the next day, a judge ordered Williams held on $10,000 bail. That meant he needed to come up $1,000 cash to win his freedom.”
That’s all generally true. Routine drug arrestees are usually released without posting bail.
|Williams | Chicago Police Dept|
But, records show that this was Williams’ 23rd criminal case in Cook County. He was charged with manufacture-delivery of cocaine, not simply possession. A routine bail evaluation assigned Williams a score of 4 out of 6 for recent criminal activity and a 3 out of 6 for failure to appear in court. Six is the “worst” on both scales. He had three violent crime convictions and a series of non-appearances in previous criminal cases, the evaluation and court records show.
Judge Adam Bourgeois set bail at $10,000. Williams would be able to go home by posting 10% of that.
For nearly a year, Williams and his attorney were in court for a series of appearances. They never asked the court to reconsider his bail amount, according to court records.
On November 15, 2016, the same day that the Tribune featured Williams in its story, a man identified on bail records as an “associate” of Williams’ posted the $1,000 down-payment. Williams went free.
Last July, Williams filed a motion with the court: Rather than rely on the public defender he had been given, Williams wanted to hire an attorney with his own funds. That was the last time the court ever saw James Williams Jr.
A warrant for his arrest remains active, according to court records.
The Tribune story managed to stretch for more than 1,600 words without mentioning an inconvenient truth: Another person who was charged with nearly identical crimes in the same criminal case as James Williams Jr. was released on a recognizance bond.
|Watson-Williams | Chicago Police Dept|
Thirty-eight-year-old Arlene Watson-Williams of Dolton was arrested the same day as James Williams and was charged with selling the same amount of crack cocaine to the same undercover cop for the same amount of money as Williams.
Unlike Williams, Watson-Williams had no criminal convictions and had never failed to show up for a court hearing. She was released on her own recognizance.
The Tribune story is an interesting read when one approaches it with the knowledge that Williams would eventually go free, seek to hire a private attorney with his own money, and then skip bail.
That’s particularly true when you have the knowledge that another defendant in the exact same case, accused of the almost exactly the same crimes, but who had no history of violence or skipping court, was released on a recognizance bond.
Using Illinois’ Freedom Of Information law, CWBChicago editors secured a list of inmates that the sheriff’s office, Cook County State’s Attorney, and Cook County Board President said were in jail last September for no other reason than the fact that they couldn’t pay less than $1,000 to bail out.
There are 268 names on the list. Our team has been carefully researching the records of every inmate. We have found that the vast majority of them were in jail not just because they didn’t pay bail to go free, but because they had already been free and subsequently violated the terms of recognizance bonds, probation, or supervised release. (By the way, the sheriff’s office did absolutely no research to determine if the people on its list were truly “poor.” It simply assumed that an inmate was poor because they hadn’t posted $1,000 or less.)
Here is the third installment of our research:
LW was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon for allegedly pointing a handgun at others during an argument in Evanston. He was released on a recognizance bond. On September 16, he was arrested again—for domestic battery this time. Bail was set at $2,000. Two days later, the Cook County Sheriff deemed him to be “poor” because he had not yet posted $200. He later posted bail and has gone AWOL.
On September 15, 270-pound LH was charged with domestic battery for allegedly grabbing his 19-year-old niece while brandishing a knife and demanding that she hand over money so he could buy drugs. The woman’s finger was cut by the knife and LH allegedly tried to hit her with her baby’s high chair. She was six-months pregnant at the time. Police said that they were walking LH out of the house when he turned around and said, “Imma beat yo ass when I get out [of jail].” Bail was set at $3,000. Three days later, the sheriff’s office included him on their list of people who, for want of bail money, ought to be free.
On May 24, KH was charged with resisting police and battering a victim with his fists and feet in Matteson. He was released on a recognizance bond. But, on August 26, he was arrested again for violating the order of protection that mandated him to stay away from his alleged battery victim. Bail was set at $5,000. It would seem that KH might qualify as someone who poses a threat to others, but—without ever checking on KH’s financial status—the sheriff’s office included him on their September 18th list of “poor people” in jail.
Now here you go. HERE is an example of someone who quite possibly was in jail because she was poor. JR was charged on September 4 with criminal damage to property and theft for allegedly tearing up a suburban park district’s baseball field tarp to create shelter for herself. After seeing JR exhibit “weird behavior” in court, the judge placed her in treatment at a medical facility.
RT, given two years probation in December 2016 for felony property damage, he violated the terms of his probation in March 2017 by failing to report to his probation officer and failing to make restitution payments. Bail was set at $10,000 on April 10, but he was then released on a recognizance bond on April 26. Again he failed to meet his end of the bargain and he was charged again with violating probation on June 7. He was taken into custody on August 19 and bail was set at $10,000.
TW was sentenced to 14 months probation in March 2017, he violated probation on June 9, July 17, and again on September 14. Four days later, giving no consideration to the fact that he had been set free three times at no cost, the sheriff included TW on his list of people who shouldn’t be in jail.
JB was charged with running from police on July 25. He was released on a recognizance bond. Then, he went AWOL. Back in custody on September 16, bail was set at $2,500. He made “the poor list” on September 18 and pleaded guilty the next day.
KK was charged on September 4 with pushing his wife into their stove and slapping her face. He was ordered held on $5,000 bail. He would need $500 to go free. Complicating his bail situation: He was ordered to stay away from his wife, making a return home difficult.
MN was charged with theft on September 13. He had an ongoing narcotics case in which he went AWOL twice and violated terms of his probation three times. Bail was set at $2,000. Five days later, despite the fact that MN had violated terms of release on five separate occasions and without analyzing MN’s financial status, the sheriff’s office included him on the list of people that it believed were jailed for being “poor.”
OR was arrested on September 14 and charged with domestic battery for allegedly punching his 53-year-old girlfriend in the face “several times.” Bail was set at $2,000. Four days later, he was included on the list of people that the sheriff’s office thought shouldn’t be in jail. On September 20th, he posted bail.