DA says Waukesha massacre suspect's release on low bail was due to 'human error' by overloaded staffer

"That's a mistake. That's human error. It set in motion a chain of events that resulted in a tragedy," said Chisholm.

Hannah Nightingale Washington DC

Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm revealed on Thursday that career criminal Darrell Brooks, the suspect arrested in connection with the Waukesha parade massacre last month, was released on a low cash bail due to "human error" by an overloaded, early-career assistant prosecutor is his office.

Chisholm was questioned by officials during a Milwaukee County Board Judiciary and Public Safety Committee meeting. Officials wanted an explanation as to why Brooks was allowed to be released on just $1,000 cash bail a little over two weeks before he allegedly killed six people and wounded more than 60 others by driving his SUV through Waukesha's Christmas parade on Nov. 21, according to WBAL11.

Brooks has been charged with six counts of first-degree intentional homicide in connection to the incident, and is currently being held on a $5 million bail.

An assistant prosecutor who was assigned to a domestic violence case involving Brooks allegedly attempting to run over his ex-girlfriend was reportedly handling a jury trial and almost two dozen other felony cases when she reviewed Brooks' most recently posted bail, which was $500, Chisholm said.

"The unidentified assistant district attorney, who was overloaded with cases, decided to double the bail amount to $1,000, he added," wrote WBAL11.

Chisholm said the mistake was due to the assistant district attorney not having access to a critical risk assessment for Brooks, which had not been uploaded to the office's case management system. That assessment placed Brooks as a high failure to appear risky and a six-out-of-six risk of committing another crime.

Chisholm said that a higher cash bail should have been recommended for Brooks given all the evidence. "Given the volume of cases she was dealing with, she simply charged the case, she looked at the previous bail, and saw that it was $500 and she doubled it," he said. "That's a mistake. That's human error. It set in motion a chain of events that resulted in a tragedy."

"I put the finger on myself and that's my obligation, that's my responsibility," Chisholm continued, adding that his office will do a sentinel event review to learn from the errors in the case "through an ongoing practice that examines the causes, successes and failures of an incident," wrote WBAL11.

Chisholm, who has instituted efforts to reduce mass incarceration, committed to a program when running for office in 2006 that sought to connect individuals charged with low-level offenses to services that matched their assessed risk.

On Thursday, Chisholm said that system was in place when Brooks was released and "should have been followed."

"There was a public safety assessment that was done that characterized this situation as a high-risk situation. Our default position in this case because of the laws in Wisconsin is that we recommend higher amounts of cash," he said.

Chisholm noted that his office has lost six assistant district attorneys since 2018,  including two in the domestic violence unit, due to a cut in federal funding.

"We generally try about 500 matters to a jury or court trial every year. Because of the pandemic, we've had to constrain some of that, and that, in turn, affects other parts of the system," Chisholm said.

Mary Triggiano, the county's chief judge, said Thursday that the county has a backlog of 1,600 felony and 3,100 misdemeanor cases.

"Chisholm said while it does not excuse Brooks' low cash bail, the assistant district attorney assigned to his case did not have ample time to make a decision," according to WBAL11. "It puts it in context that when you're dealing with high-volume triage and trying to sort what the most serious offense is, get the case in the system and move on to the next one, sometimes errors can occur," he added.


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