3 On Your Side Investigates: Out on Bond - MSNewsNow.com - Jackson, MS

3 On Your Side Investigates: Out on Bond

Source: WLBT Source: WLBT
Source: WLBT Source: WLBT
JACKSON, MS (Mississippi News Now) -

Arrested, out on bond, arrested again, out on bond. Are criminals given too many chances in Hinds County?

On Wednesday, we discovered through court documents that the man wanted in Sunday's deadly stabbing, Allen Johnson Jr., made bond after slicing a Hinds County Sheriff's Deputy with a knife last year.

Judge Melvin Priester Sr. gave Johnson a bond of $1,000.

This problem has Jackson police rolling their eyes in disbelief: criminals given low bond, sometimes no bond, and sent home, where they continue to break the law. And it’s something not even the state’s highest court seems willing to control.

“It really, really, gets crazy. And in the end, these individuals go back out, re-offend, and they’re still victimizing people in the public," said Jackson Police Chief Lee Vance.

Every week, Vance sees the fruits of his officers’ labor in the department’s COMSTAT meeting.

He also sees individuals arrested on felony charges with a criminal record several pages thick.

Take Bruce Bradley, arrested for aggravated assault earlier this year when police say he shot a pregnant woman.

He had already been arrested 50 times by law enforcement. Most of those were misdemeanors. 

However, two years ago, Bradley faced kidnapping and sexual battery charges.

In 2012, police charged him with rape and house burglary. Twenty-two-years-ago, Bradley had a murder charge lobbed against him.

“If it happened every now and then, I don’t think it would really have us as frustrated as we are week to week, but this is something that goes on all the time," added Vance.

How do these repeat offenders get out?

In many cases, Hinds County judges set low bonds. Sometimes these defendants are released on their own recognizance.

The most recent case of that involved Donald Nunnery, accused of shooting into a vehicle in July. That bullet hit a seven-year-old child in the neck.

A judge gave Nunnery ROR and house arrest, complete with an ankle monitor that’s supposed to keep him from leaving.

But they don’t always work.

“There was a woman who got carjacked, her car was taken from her at gunpoint, and the guy took off in the car," said Vance. "When we arrested him, he had an ankle bracelet on. And I think that’s a glaring example of what we’re talking about. And he’s not the only one like that. We arrest individuals committing felony crimes and they got ankle bracelets on, or they just got off on bond. There’s too many examples to really name, to be honest with you." 

3 On Your Side reached out to Hinds County Senior Circuit Judge Tomie Green to get her take on why these judges, many who work under her, seem to be setting bonds that just aren’t high enough.

Green turned down an on-camera interview with us, saying her docket was too full.

She did tell us that the Mississippi Supreme Court established suggested bond amounts for judges all across the state. Those rules and recommendations took effect July 1.

She also told us that her judges “have been well within the range of suggested bonds” and told us we might find other counties that were outside that range, a subtle jab at neighboring Madison and Rankin counties, where bonds seem to be routinely set higher than in Hinds.

“We do not need to have defendants re-arrested over and over again. We can stop this situation," said Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith.

We took some of these career criminals' rap sheets to Smith to see what he makes of these cases.

“When we see someone who’s been re-arrested again and again, especially for violent offenses, we always look to see how they got out, and oftentimes, if not all the time, the court has either released that person or has set a bond so low that, again, we just won’t know about it if the court sets a bond or releases someone without our knowledge," added Smith.

Smith said he thinks there’s a communication gap between the Hinds County judicial system and his office, where in many cases, judges don’t share when a defendant is given bond or released on house arrest.

“That’s what I’ve been looking into for the last year and a half, two years," said Smith. "I did a very in-depth investigation and discovered that a lot of these defendants were released and have been released without the district attorney’s office involved at all," added Smith.

While our investigation didn’t reveal that connection, we did find several instances of criminals re-arrested by Jackson’s finest, with track records that should have kept them behind bars.

When officers arrested Dvontae Nicholas in August for auto theft, JPD said Nicholas had three indictments already against him for aggravated assault, attempted aggravated assault, and armed carjacking.

“I think we all agree that on most of your crimes, especially your violent crimes, where there’s an overwhelming amount of evidence presented to a judge, that we can agree that there should be no bond or a very significantly high bond," said the District Attorney.

When JPD officers get wind of these situations, Smith said they can let his office know.

“I know it’s very difficult for some sergeants and officers to challenge the court, but again, that’s where we come in and that’s where we have to challenge and continue to improve because this does not have to be the case in Hinds County at all," said Smith.

If a DA’s recommendations are ignored, the only recourse left seems to be the state’s highest court.

After all, if the Supreme Court established suggested bond amounts, it should be able to enforce those rules, right?

Not exactly.

We asked court spokesperson Beverly Kraft that very question.

“If judges routinely deviate from the recommended bail amounts, hypothetically speaking, how would the Mississippi Supreme Court enforce these new rules?”

She told us she didn’t think she should comment.

Then when we asked if anybody else within the Supreme Court could give us an answer, she replied:

“The Supreme Court is not going to comment," said Craft”

That means we really don’t know if judges in Hinds County could be held responsible for the bonds they set, at least not by the state’s highest court.

That unchecked power, Smith says, can be dangerous. He believes his investigation into these judges and defense attorneys skirting the system put a target on his back.

“It seemed like the more I started looking into it, the more problems I started getting," said Smith.

When asked if he could provide us with the evidence he had gathered, Smith politely declined.

“I have a lot of it, I just can’t show it to you," added Smith 

Whether that’s because he wants to take the matter to court or not, Smith didn’t say.

Vance didn’t shy away from the possibility of a future legal battle, though.

“I believe that that trend has to change, and I think it’s going to take, maybe it will take going to court. I’m not afraid to go to court. Whatever it is that it takes to give us, as the criminal justice system, the opportunity to keep people from getting victimized by the same individuals over and over, I think that needs to be done," Vance said.

More scrutiny from reporters helps, too.

You may remember 3 On Your Side's story last month of a man facing armed robbery charges who got a $10,000 bond from Judge Ali Shamsiddeen.

After the story ran, the judge blamed the police department for a lack of information and increased the bond to $200,000.

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