It is clear that Mr. Brooks — who had a criminal history of violence, domestic abuse, sexual crime, drug offenses and bail jumping dating to 1999 — should never have been eligible for such a low bail regardless of the state of the courts, lawyers who work in the system said.
Each defendant is screened by a pretrial risk assessment that uses nine data points, including age and prior convictions, to rate the defendant’s risk of failing to appear in court and of committing a new crime. Judges or court commissioners receive the risk score, along with recommendations by the defense and the prosecution, before setting the amount of bond and the release conditions, which can range from very little supervision for low-risk defendants to weekly check-ins and GPS monitoring.
The risk assessment is not a matter of public record, but someone with Mr. Brooks’s history would almost certainly have been rated a six out of six and flagged as a high risk for violence, several lawyers said.
Mr. Brooks was ordered to be under “Level 5” supervision, the most restrictive level possible, according to documents prepared for his Nov. 5 bail hearing. He was ordered to keep away from two female witnesses in the case, and prohibited from carrying a firearm, but he was not required to wear a GPS unit to track his location. The $1,000 bond was posted by a relative.
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The prosecutor assigned to Mr. Brooks’s case, Michelle A. Grasso, a 2019 graduate of Marquette University Law School, and Carole Manchester, a veteran lawyer who represented the office in the bail hearing, did not respond to requests for comment.
The bail system in Milwaukee, with its pretrial protocols, is the result of a longstanding collaboration among the county judges, Mr. Chisholm’s office and the local public defender. In 2012, the courts introduced risk assessments to reduce unnecessary restrictions on low-level defenders and more accurately identify those who warranted closer supervision.
“With a tragedy like this, a true tragedy, we do not have any way of predicting when this is likely to happen or not likely to happen,” said Meghan Guevara, an executive partner at the Pretrial Justice Institute. “If the judges were not having to churn through so many cases, they may have time to focus on a case like this,” she added.