Milwaukee County DA John Chisholm’s office has failed to protect public safety well before the Darrell Brooks case. He refused to prosecute about 60% of felony charges last year. The jail population has plummeted, despite rising crime.
Furthermore, when we confronted him with questions in the courthouse hallway, he admitted backlogs in his office and revealed that the system has been sending thousands of offenders “summons” to show up in court, instead of booking them into the jail. We’ve got it on audio.
Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm is trying to pretend the low bail for Waukesha parade suspect Darrell Brooks was an aberration. However, Wisconsin Right Now has repeatedly demonstrated over the past year through investigative stories (rounded up below) how his office – and other Democratic leaders in Wisconsin – have endangered public safety by not holding repeat criminals accountable.
The Democratic DA’s soft-on-crime approach has escalated in the past two years, and we’ve previously reported about offenders accused of violent crimes who were released on low bail amounts. We’ve described cases that weren’t prosecuted over the objections of police.
At times, the local media have followed Wisconsin Right Now‘s reporting with stories of their own but, in more cases, they have simply refused to scrutinize Chisholm and other Democratic criminal justice leaders like Attorney General Josh Kaul, fixating obsessively on Milwaukee police instead (with the exception of talk radio). Yet our previous reviews of Chisholm’s own case data showed that Milwaukee police were still doing their job, referring cases to the DA. They just weren’t being prosecuted in more cases than not.
This all comes at a time of skyrocketing crime in Milwaukee – it’s up 31%.
Furthermore, when we tracked down Chisholm in a courthouse hallway in October 2021 to ask him about all of this, since other media (other than talk radio) will not and because he was dodging our questions, he tried to blame his low prosecution numbers on the high number of accused offenders not being booked into the jail at all.
Chisholm revealed in that interview that officials were using a previously unreported process – which he blamed on COVID – to hand many arrested suspects “summons” (a notice) to come to court for their first appearance, rather than book them into the jail and requiring them to bail them out at all. That means that many offenders were left on the streets after their arrests, and it was left to them to do the right thing and show up for their first court appearance.
Our impromptu interview with him is on audio.
“The numbers are unprecedented,” he said of crime spikes. Chisholm, who was an assistant DA for years before becoming the elected DA, did say he opposed defunding the police (there are many cops who have told us they liked him when he was an ADA but feel he lost his way since becoming District Attorney). Chisholm admitted to us, “We have backlogs in everything.” At that time, in October 2021, he said that “there are 160 to 170 guys sitting in the jail right now on first-degree intentional homicide charges.”
In the past, due to speedy trial rights, there would have been around 30-40 such offenders in jail, he said. The change is because of a backlog in jury trials (there were 350 backlogged jury trials at that time; Darrell Brooks’ 2020 felony case was one of them.)
“Everything is backed up…you’re not doing the same capacity you were,” admitted Chisholm. Asked if his own office has backlogs, he said, “Oh yeah. A huge number of cases that are out in summons…so many of them are in summons.”
“So because of the pandemic you didn’t want for misdemeanors and even some categories of felony offenses, you didn’t want to bring them into the jail,” Chisholm continued. He said that’s because the jail was only putting one inmate per cell due to COVID.
To create space in the jail “instead of bringing people downtown and booking them,” suspects were booked at district stations and given “order in dates and given a summons. It’s just a different approach,” said Chisholm.
“In the past, everyone was brought down immediately…. You don’t stay at Glendale, West Allis, or (Milwaukee police) district number 3 for long,” Chisholm explained. “You get booked there quickly and put down in the jail.” Now, he said, people were booked at district stations or suburban PDs, released, and then issued a summons. “We’re still working through that backlog. There were thousands and thousands of those cases,” he said in October.
We also revealed previously that Chisholm’s office is part of something called the Milwaukee County Safety and Justice Challenge. What is that more specifically? Milwaukee County was among 11 sites selected to join the SJC Network in 2016. Since its public launch, the network has grown into a collaborative of 51 jurisdictions in 32 states. Together, these communities are focusing on making the justice system more “fair” and “equitable.”
The Safety and Justice Challenge’s website declares, “The Safety and Justice Challenge is reimagining and rebuilding local criminal justice systems — reducing jail incarceration and increasing equity for all.”
The website contains articles headlined things like “beyond jails.” It’s funding includes the left-leaning MacArthur Foundation, per its own website. Milwaukee’s website says, “The Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC) represents a major investment by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to reduce over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails.”
The Milwaukee website makes it sound like a good thing that the jail population has plummeted.
What’s happened since is a plunging jail population and prosecution rate.
Check out what’s happened to the Milwaukee County Jail population as a result at a time of skyrocketing violent crime. These are the DA’s own numbers:
Now the low bail amounts ($500 and then $1000) in two of Brooks’ pending cases has made national news; the DA is saying the low bail was “inappropriate,” and he’s promising an investigation. Yet in case after case of serious repeat offenders, we found low bail amounts in the past too, when people were prosecuted at all. And the “summons” practice has been entirely unscrutinized by the Milwaukee media.
To be sure, Chisholm is only one cog in a criminal justice system that has failed on multiple levels – from a court system with two-year backlogs (which is why Brooks’ bail was reduced to $500 in his 2020 case because the court couldn’t meet his speedy trial rights) to a jail run by a Democratic sheriff that is racked by a severe staffing crisis to a state crime lab run by a Democratic AG that is taking far fewer cases but taking longer to turn them around, a trend that started before COVID. In September 2021, we reported that there were 350 backlogged jury trials in Milwaukee County (it turns out Brooks’ 2020 case was one).
But the DA clearly places a huge role, and we’ve done what the local media would not BEFORE the tragedy. We put a spotlight on it. Talk radio has also been focusing on Chishom over the past year as well.
Low Bail, Delayed Justice
Brooks was not an aberration. In fact, in September 2021, we exposed how a Franklin, Wisconsin, Walmart carjacking suspect, who was a major story in the news, was a felon who had two open felony cases (with six charges) at the time of his crime spree but was given repeated passes by multiple judges and court commissioners in Milwaukee County in the months and days leading up to it.
It’s a story remarkably similar to Brooks’ cases, in which Brooks’ 2020 case wound so slowly through the court system that he was given plenty of time to re-offend, being released on $500 bail (for allegedly shooting a gun at a car), and then was released again on the streets on $1,000 bail even after allegedly trying to run a woman over with his car in a gas station parking lot just days before the Waukesha parade horror. Chisholm’s prosecutors recommend bail, which is ultimately set by judges or court commissioners.
We found a similar story in November 2021 when we scrutinized the background of Kenneth Burney, the man who allegedly shot two Wauwatosa Police officers and injured a third officer at the Radisson, 2303 N. Mayfair Road.
We reported that Burney was released on a $1,000 signature bond in March 2020 by Milwaukee County Court Commissioner Rosa Barillas. He remained on the street even though those charges were extremely serious: Felon in possession of a firearm as a habitual criminality repeater, and disorderly conduct with use of a dangerous weapon as a habitual criminality repeater and with domestic abuse assessments.
The case was charged in March 2020, but it remained pending more than 1 year and 7 months later, with multiple status conferences.
In August 2020, Ronald Bell was accused of serious felonies for allegedly firing a gun near two police officers during an assault at their own home by the People’s Revolution, a BLM-related group.
One of the officers, Joseph Mensah, had drawn the ire of the People’s Revolution because he was accused – and cleared – in three shootings. Both officers were assaulted. However, Bell’s case is still pending, and he was released on $1,000 bail despite being charged with second-degree recklessly endangering safety with a dangerous weapon and battery or threat to a law enforcement officer.
Bail was originally $7,500 but was reduced to $1,000 in September 2020. He racked up violations on pretrial release, court records show, but a judge, David Feiss, “took no action,” court records say. He had a previous case, which is also still pending, from 2020, for battery with a dangerous weapon. Bail in that case was $500 cash.
These are just some examples.
The DA Isn’t Prosecuting Serious Cases
We launched a major series called the “No Process Files” in April 2021 and exposed the DA’s shockingly high rates of non-prosecution, which are rising. We also exposed how he was blocking us – and through us the public – from learning which cases he was not prosecuting.
We filed an open records complaint against Chisholm with the state Attorney General’s office, which is still pending. Here’s that story.
“Wisconsin Right Now filed an open records complaint with the state Attorney General’s office against Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm over the DA’s refusal to let the public know the names of people his office is refusing to charge in cases where police sought criminal prosecution,” our story read. The complaint has been pending for many months.
Shortly before that, we wrote another story that noted, “Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm refused to allow the public to learn which cases his office has decided not to prosecute most recently.”
His non-prosecution numbers are growing.
“A Wisconsin Right Now investigation found that the Milwaukee County DA John Chisholm’s no prosecution rate has exploded in the past year, with his office refusing to prosecute 6 in 10 of every felony charge requested by police. Last December, the office refused to prosecute more than 8 in 10 misdemeanor cases requested by cops. There are cases rejected after filing, which makes the total number of cases prosecuted even lower,” that story reported.
“Milwaukee County DA John Chisholm’s office refused to prosecute about 60% of felony charges referred by local police departments last year (in 2020), a 7% spike in rejected cases. The first 2 months of 2021 are even worse, with the DA’s office rejecting almost 63% of all requested felony charges.”
Last year, there was a “No Process” rate of about 60% for felonies and about 65% for misdemeanors, an overall increase of about 10% fewer cases charged over 2019, we wrote. “The trends for 2021, including for violent crime and gun non-prosecutions, are getting even worse. In fact, when it comes to guns, police are referring more firearms cases but the DA is charging fewer of them. Police referrals of violent crimes are down, but the DA’s no process decisions are rising more.”
In April 2021, we did a story on how Chisholm’s office “refused to prosecute Ayotunde Bello, a former Milwaukee police officer who was fired after very disturbing accusations that he sexually assaulted a female motorist a few hours after meeting her on duty in a traffic stop. Bello, who had a checkered history even before joining the force, was also accused of stealing drugs from her.”
We wrote a story in April 2021 headlined, “Why Won’t DA Chisholm Charge Gun & Resisting an Officer Case?” It reported, exclusively, that Milwaukee police thought they had a very strong illegal gun case against Evan M. Harmon. During his arrest, police reports obtained by Wisconsin Right Now through an open records request say, Harmon even made the statement, “All I had was that gun.” But it was not charged at that time. A month after our story, he was finally charged with carrying a concealed weapon.
The police chief in Franklin, Wisconsin, blasted Chisholm for his office’s refusal to prosecute an alleged multi-million dollar marijuana grow in a residential neighborhood. “Quite frankly, we’re just going to have to get used to this,” Chisholm told Wisconsin Right Now. “We’re moving increasingly to more of a regulatory intervention as opposed to law enforcement intervention on marijuana.”
In early November 2021, we wrote a story that said: “The Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office is refusing to prosecute a violent attack of an anti-abortion protester that was captured on video.”
Other Democratic Leaders Are Failing to Protect the Public
We also exposed other elements of the Milwaukee County criminal justice system that were working together to release dangerous criminals on the street as Milwaukee’s violent crime numbers exploded.
In September 2021, we wrote a story that revealed, for the first time, that there was a two-year backlog in the Milwaukee County court system, including 350 backlogged jury trials (one reason Darrell Brooks was released on $500 bail before the Waukesha parade massacre was being the state couldn’t meet his speedy trial demand, which is enshrined in the Constitution, due to court “congestion.”) Officials blamed COVID for not having the courthouse running at normal capacity even in 2021 after the vaccine was widely distributed. They shifted to talking about the Delta variant as the excuse.
Meanwhile, we noted, while all of this was going on, the Milwaukee County Sheriff, Earnell Lucas, was focused on renaming inmates “persons in our care.”
In July 2021, we wrote a story that exposed how “more than 6,000 people on state supervision basically thumbed their noses at the system by committing new crimes recently, but the state of Wisconsin Department of Corrections chose not to send them back to prison.”
See Darrell Brooks’s criminal history here.
Here is the District Attorney’s statement on the low bail in Brooks’ case:
Below is the summary of pending charges against Mr. Darrell Brooks: On July 27, 2020, the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office issued two counts of second-degree Recklessly Endangering Safety and Felon In Possession of a Firearm in case2020CF002550. Cash bail was originally set at $10,000 and subsequently reduced to $7,500.Unlike some other states, Wisconsin requires payment for the full amount of bail set in any criminal case.
On February 9, 2021, the State was prepared to proceed to a scheduled jury trial. Mr. Brooks was still in custody on this matter and previously made a demand for a speedy jury trial. Because another jury trial was in progress before the same court, the defendant’s demand for a speedy jury trial could not be met. The case was adjourned and bail reduced to $500, which the defendant posted on February 21, 2021.
On November 5, 2021, the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office issued against Mr.Brooks charges of Second Degree Recklessly Endangering Safety, Felony Bail Jumping, Battery, Obstructing an Officer and Disorderly Conduct in case 2021CF004596. The most recent case against Mr. Brooks was appropriately charged. The State made a cash bail request in this case of$1,000, which was set by the court. The defendant posted $1,000 cash bail on November 11, resulting in his release from custody.
The State’s bail recommendation, in this case, was inappropriately low in light of the nature of the recent changes and the pending charges against Mr. Brooks. 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.
This office is currently conducting an internal review of the decision to make the recent bail recommendation in this matter in order to determine the appropriate next steps.