Bail agents investigated after man was beaten outside home

Two bond agents beat and maced a man when they showed up at his home after he missed a court date in late November. Now their conduct is the subject of a criminal investigation that raises questions about what agents are allowed to do under Florida law.The Broward Sheriff’s Office is investigating whether bond agents Brandon Gaines and Chase Walton were legally justified in the force they used against Anthony Michael Hall, 24, outside his Lauderdale Lakes apartment on Nov. 29. A neighbor captured part of the confrontation on video.In the video, Hall is seen outside his apartment unit bare chested, the agents on either side of him. One punched Hall in the face. The other swung at him several times with what appears to be a metal baton. The first blasted the man’s face with pepper spray.“The neighbor who recorded the video called us to the scene,” said Broward Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Joy Oglesby. The results of the investigation will be sent to prosecutors at the Broward State Attorney’s Office when it is complete, she said.The neighbor who recorded the confrontation, Lara Laign, also posted the video to YouTube and shared it with Hall’s civil attorney, Russell Williams, who provided the video to the South Florida Sun Sentinel..“Get on the ground! Get on the ground, now!” one agent yelled as the second swung the metal bar at Hall’s back.Hall didn’t comply, despite repeated blows to the legs, arms and back.Laign said she noticed the commotion and pulled out her cellphone to record. Her video did not show the beginning of the encounter between Hall and the agents or what led to the confrontation. Multiple attempts to reach Gaines, Walton and the bond agency that employs them, AAA Star Bail Bonds of West Palm Beach, were unsuccessful.Laign’s video begins a split second before Hall was punched in the face. The defendant held his hand up, then covered his head in anticipation of being struck with Continue Reading

Our Bail-Bond System Is Broken

How much did you pay to be free today? Every day, innocent people are held for ransom in a system that’s become a profitable sector of the financial industry: bail. New research by the ACLU and Color of Change reveals just how damaging to communities this marketplace for hostages of the criminal-justice system has become. Two years ago, the social upheaval of Ferguson exposed how in many cities and towns, law enforcement uses predatory fines and fees to criminalize people to extract revenue. The bail-bond industry links the criminal process even more tightly to the financial industry, directly exploiting families by ensnaring them in an increasingly privatized criminal-justice apparatus. The commercial bond market—one of the world’s only for-profit bail systems—has grown over time into an industry that trades in $14 billion worth of desperation each year. “It’s extractive, it is harmful, and it is not helping in creating a more safe and just community,” says Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change. Without structural reforms to restrict the use of bail by police and courts, he says, under current policies “you are better off being guilty and rich than innocent and poor in this country.” After an arrest, commercial bail-bond agencies track people into multiple layers of coercion—they’re first locked up while awaiting trial, then face a bail bondsman who essentially determines their pretrial incarceration terms. In contrast to a court hearing, with some guarantee of transparent due process, according to American Bar Association, bail agents are empowered to set fees and collateral requirements, determine the rules for bond, or even whether to offer bail at all, “in secret, without any record of the reasons for these decisions.” When justice is blind to everything but profit, actual guilt has no bearing on your sentence. Especially in black and brown communities where Continue Reading

Bail on the bail bond industry

A wildly lucrative and largely unaccountable private industry extracts millions of dollars each year from the most marginalized communities in New York City, by leeching off the criminal justice system and preying on families when they are at their most vulnerable. The commercial bail bonds industry siphoned as much as $20 million in premiums in 2016 from predominantly low-income communities of color, finds a new report from the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, a non-profit that pays bail for people accused of low-level crimes. The exploitation has turned so intolerable that last week New York State’s top court ruled illegal a common industry practice: retaining bond premiums even in cases in which the judge refuses to actually release the defendant from jail. Ira Judelson, the bondsman in the case, argued in his defense that he had done this in hundreds of cases and that it was, in fact, an industry norm. While the ruling — the first ever on the bail industry from the state Court of Appeals — may eventually protect consumers from this particular harm, the industry is rife with other predatory practices that put consumers at risk. The commercial bail bonds industry, banned globally in all countries except the U.S. and the Philippines, is a booming, $14 billion a year business nationwide. In 2016, roughly 12,000 bail bonds were executed in courts in New York City, requiring families to pay millions in upfront premiums, collateral and illegal fees. The industry is so poorly regulated that no one in New York collects an accurate estimate of these numbers, including the Department of Financial Services, the state agency responsible for oversight. The purpose of bail is to allow presumptively innocent people to be free during the pendency of a criminal case. If bail is set, New York’s laws provide judges with nine different types. Besides cash, commercial bail bonds are one of the most prevalent options judges allow, Continue Reading

Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito’s bail fund moving slowly as only two are freed

Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito’s touted bail fund has helped free just two low-level detainees and is months away from being fully operational. The Liberty Fund continues to struggle to get off the ground despite being announced as the centerpiece of the speaker’s first State of the City address in February 2015. In a no-bid contract, the Council selected the Doe Fund to create and run the bail kitty and set aside a little over $1 million for operating costs. The bail industry is highly regulated — in large part to keep close tabs on possible predatory bail-bond agencies — and requires new operators to jump through a myriad of regulatory hoops. “We didn’t know how long it would take,” said Alexander Horwitz, Doe Fund chief of staff. “What we were up against was the dubious reputation of the for-profit bail sector.” First, the Doe Fund needed to get tax-exempt status as a legitimate nonprofit, a process that in some instances takes up to two years. Then, the fund had to get licensed by the state’s Department of Financial Services. The fund is now in the process of getting staff licensed as certified bail bondsmen. That takes up to three months. Currently, only two people on staff have the license needed, far from the planned 10 in total. “We are still hiring bail agents,” Horwitz said. By contrast, the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund has six and the Bronx Freedom Fund has multiple on staff as well. Those funds have bailed out more than 2,000 low-level offenders over the past two years. “And 95% of all our clients have made all their court dates, which challenges the notion that bail is necessary for people to return to court,” said Peter Goldberg, executive director of the Brooklyn fund. When Mark-Viverito announced the fund, she said it would also save the city millions in detention costs. That hasn’t happened. Continue Reading

Delaware inches forward on bail reform

Delaware is on the verge of changing its bail system in a way that would alter – and in some cases eliminate – the price tag on freedom for those awaiting trial.That price this past week in Delaware was $105,800 cash for a man accused of stealing cigarettes from nine convenience stores, $45,000 cash for a man accused of a pocket-knife stabbing and $6,100 unsecured bail for a teen who police say was caught with 600 grams of marijuana.Legislation that could be proposed this spring would shift the presumption away from always using cash."The old way of thinking was there was a price tag on every case," said Thomas Foley, a Wilmington lawyer working on the legislation. "That is so antiquated."Instead, defendants who are found not to be a danger to the community or a flight risk would avoid prison if they comply with a judge's conditions. While cash bail could still be one choice for judges, others could range from a defendant promising to hold a job, check-in weekly with a drug counselor or wear a GPS ankle monitor."Under our current legislation, my job is to set bond in an amount, and in a very large number of cases, money doesn't do anything to protect the public or to ensure that a person will show up," said Chief Magistrate Alan Davis, who heads the Justice of the Peace Courts, where bail is initially set for defendants in Delaware. "Other conditions could favorably do that."This changing mentality among judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and others is sweeping the nation. It stands on the premise that cash bail punishes the poor and doesn't make society safer because the poor end up spending more time behind bars than those who may be a danger to the community but can afford to pay for release.The News Journal observed the court system in Washington, D.C., where cash bail is never used to determine whether a defendant should be released. A November 2015 story looked at whether a similar Continue Reading

PD: Man who threatened FRCC posts bond, prompts lockout

Final update: 4:30 p.m.: The man previously accused of threatening to burn down a building on a college campus in Fort Collins posted bond on Saturday morning and allegedly drove past the school from which he was banned, violating bond and prompting an afternoon lockout at Front Range Community College facilities across Colorado.David Moscow, 29, was initially arrested on Monday after a psychologist reported that he was making threats about shooting a security guard and burning down a building at FRCC in Fort Collins if he wasn’t re-admitted as a student. While he was on a 72-hour hold, investigators searched his home and vehicle and located an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, a Glock .40-caliber handgun and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, arrest documents show.As a convicted felon, Moscow was barred from possessing weapons. Officers also found hydrocodone pills for which Moscow lacked a prescription as well as amphetamines, court records show.Moscow was jailed on Monday, but he posted his $37,500 cash bond on Saturday morning.He was issued an ankle monitor that was programmed to alert law enforcement any time he came within 50 yards of a Front Range site in the state. The system has campuses in Fort Collins, Longmont and Westminster, among others.Police were notified at 12:30 p.m. Saturday that Moscow had driven past FRCC in Fort Collins, violating the boundary from which he was barred under bond rules, said Kate Kimble, Fort Collins police spokeswoman.She added that he did not actually stop at or enter the property.Officers on Saturday worked with security at the Fort Collins campus, and the decision came about 1 p.m. to issue a “lockout” order across the entire FRCC system. The order told anyone on campus to stay inside and away from doors and windows — individuals not on campus were advised to stay away until instructed otherwise.The order came at a time when the Fort Collins arm of the college system, Continue Reading

Will Delaware end cash bail?

About 60 men and women, wearing the clothes they were arrested in hours earlier and shackled at their ankles and wrists, shuffled one at a time up to the judge who would decide whether they should be released from the Washington, D.C., jail.A new case was heard every three minutes. And cash bail had nothing to do with defendants' ticket to freedom.Those charged with nonviolent crimes were set free on the promise they would appear at the next court hearing – including an accused drug dealer, a cocaine user, a thief and a string of others.Those considered the most dangerous – such as a man arrested for not having a license for the .42-caliber pistol in his car – were sent back to jail to await trial.This is the changing face of American jurisprudence, where releasing a defendant from jail is not based on how much money he or she can pay. The movement stands on the notion that cash bail punishes the poor, who end up spending more time behind bars than those with the means to pay for their release.Washington, D.C., eliminated bail two decades ago, and other jurisdictions may soon follow – either by choice or as a result of federal lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of incarcerating poor defendants who cannot afford bail.The bail system in Delaware is now under scrutiny as Delaware's Supreme Court Chief Justice Leo E. Strine Jr. shines a light on the disproportionate number of African-Americans incarcerated and Gov. Jack Markell calls for criminal justice reform while examining ways to reduce prison overcrowding."It's not working when a single mom gets stuck in detention because she can't come up with a hundred bucks and has little to no family support, but a dangerous drug dealer can get his minions to bail him out," Markell said during a speech on criminal justice reform Thursday in New Orleans. "Our bail process needs to change, and it can be done, but only if we're cognizant of the full extent to which everyone involved in our criminal Continue Reading

Grisly evidence leads to bail bondsman’s arrest in killing of 2 teens

Blood pooled on the stoop of Kevin Watkins' Eastside home. It was splashed on the grass and leaves, trailing into the backyard, court documents say.There was blood on the seats of the 49-year-old man's SUV. A plastic rake caked with blood was left behind trash cans. A bloody wad of duct tape was crumpled inside the trash cans, the documents say, along with bleach and a rope.In the front yard, investigators found brain matter spattered near the sidewalk, a probable cause affidavit says.And then police found a fingertip.Watkins, an Indianapolis bounty hunter who owns Watkins Bail Bonds in the 6000 block of Massachusetts Avenue, is being held on two counts of murder in connection with the disappearance of Dionne Williams, 16, and Timmee Jackson, 15, on Christmas Eve.The teens' deaths bring the total number of criminal homicides investigated by the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department this year to 144, making this the city's deadliest year on record. The previous record for criminal homicides was 143 in 1998.Court documents describe the grisly scenes at Watkins' home in the 5900 block of East 23rd Street and at his bail bond business, where technicians found more blood, more brain matter and more bone fragments.What investigators have not yet found, however, are the bodies of the two teenagers.Police think the teenagers are dead, IMPD Lt. Richard Riddle said, but authorities won't know for sure that the blood belongs to the boys until police receive the results of lab tests.Williams and Jackson were spending time with friends at their homes in Watkins' neighborhood on Christmas Eve, their parents and friends told police.Williams realized he left his cellphone at the home of a friend who lived about 100 feet from Watkins, the probable cause affidavit says. To be safe, Jackson accompanied Williams to retrieve his phone, knowing the teenager was having problems with Watkins.Watkins thought Continue Reading

These bond ‘Girls’ are a bit junky

Bounty Girls Call it the difference between being on Court TV, which "Bounty Girls" is, or on Spike TV, which it isn't. In any case, it's reassuring to know a difference exists. The premise of "Bounty Girls," launching tonight at 9, is ominous enough that a low-budget echo of "Charlie's Angels" seems almost inevitable. Jim Viola, the owner of Sunshine State Bail Bonds Agency, has hired four women to hunt down men who have skipped bail, for crimes ranging from relatively benign to ugly and dangerous. The women are described as an "elite team," and in the world of bounty hunting, where you make up many rules as you go along, who's to say they aren't? Jag, Jade, Gloria and Clyde - yup, Clyde - are reasonably tough-looking women, not unlike some of the cast in low-rent, high-leer-factor enterprises like women's wrestling and women's Roller Derby. These four seem to be genuine professionals, however, and while they joke about how surprised criminals sometimes are to be caught "by girls," this doesn't turn out to be a show about tough chicks in tank tops. The most prominent gender reference involves several of the hunters trying to figure out how they can go to the bathroom without blowing their stakeout. Happily, the show focuses on the job itself, which in the first episode of the nine-part series involves finding a big and potentially dangerous bail jumper. The hunters' approach is methodical and sound. They find where he lives and where his girlfriend lives and then settle into the nuts and bolts of catching him. Meanwhile, they almost incidentally pinch another guy, a coke addict whose wife and children the bounty hunters feel sorry for. But hey, he should have thought of the consequences of scoring some blow, instead of showing up for his court appearance. The four women come off as likable, with enough quirks and humanizing touches so it doesn't feel like a manufactured drama. The risk in creating a show like this, without a lot of Continue Reading

Bollywood star Salman Khan granted bail pending appeal for hit-and-run case

MUMBAI, India — A court on Friday granted bail to one of India's biggest movie stars until it hears his appeal challenging his conviction in a drunk-driving hit-and-run case more than a decade ago. Salman Khan was sentenced to five years in prison on Wednesday on charges of driving over five men sleeping on the sidewalk and killing one of them in Mumbai in 2002. Justice Abhay Thipsay said the Mumbai High Court would start hearing Khan's appeal in July, according to prosecutor Abha Singh. He asked Khan to pay a bail bond of 30,000 rupees ($500). Khan, 49, is one of Bollywood's most popular stars, appearing in more than 90 Hindi-language films in his 27-year career. A large crowd of Khan's supporters danced with joy outside his house in Mumbai, India's financial and entertainment capital. However, one of his fans tried to commit suicide by consuming poison just before the start of the court proceeding on Friday, the Press Trust of India news agency said. Police rushed him to a hospital in an unconscious state. The fan, an aspiring script writer named Gourango Kundu, said in a pamphlet that he was hoping Khan would give him a break in Bollywood movies. If the actor was sent to the prison, he would not be able to help him, the pamphlet read. In convicting Khan on Wednesday, the trial court accepted the prosecution's plea that Khan was drunk when he rammed his SUV into a group of homeless people and found him guilty of culpable homicide. The trial had dragged for more than 12 years. Khan began his career in 1988, playing a romantic action hero with many of his movies becoming box office hits. In recent years he turned to philanthropy, establishing a charitable trust called "Being Human" which works in education and health care for the poor. Bollywood filmmakers were worried about the court case because Khan has several films in the pipeline. Film industry analysts Continue Reading