DA Says Overwhelmed Assistant Set Low Bail That Darrell Brooks Jr. Paid Before Parade Carnage

In a hearing in front of Milwaukee's county judiciary committee Thursday, District Attorney John Chisholm said the man who allegedly drove his car into the crowd at a Waukesha Christmas parade was out on bail in the days before the incident because an assistant in his office set the bail before evaluating the man's full case.

Chisholm said if they had evaluated the full risk assessment of Darrell Brooks Jr., his bail would have been higher than $1,000, according to The Associated Press.

Brooks allegedly drove his car into the Nov. 21 parade, killing six and injuring over 60, with no motive given as of yet.

He had multiple cases pending in the county's court system, both for endangerment involving incidents threatening or harming family members. The first occurred in July 2020, when Brooks allegedly fired a gun at his nephew.

The trial was initially scheduled for February, but prosecutors delayed it as they were dealing with a backlog of cases, causing them to reduce his bail from $7,500 to $500 for not being able to provide a speedy trial. Brooks posted the bail in March.

He was charged with endangerment again for allegedly hitting the mother of his child with his car Nov. 5, which is when Chisholm said the mistake occurred. If the assistant prosecutor who set the bail had seen that Brooks was called a "high risk" to re-offend, his bail would have been set higher than $1,000. Brooks posted the bail Nov. 19, just two days before the parade.

Chisholm said to move quickly through the county's backlog of cases, the assistant prosecutor saw Brooks's previous $500 bail and doubled it for a second offense.

For more reporting from The Associated Press, see below.

Waukesha Parade, Darrell Brooks
A family visits a memorial at Veteran's Park for the victims of Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021's deadly Christmas parade crash in Waukesha, Wis. Milwaukee County's top prosecutor District Attorney John Chisholm said Thursday that a young assistant in his office sought $1,000 bail for a man who allegedly drove his vehicle through a parade two days after he got out of jail because she was overworked and never saw his risk assessment. Jeffrey Phelps/Associated Press File

Chisholm told the committee that the assistant prosecutor handling a domestic violence case against Brooks had been on the job for only two-and-a-half years, and was handling two dozen other felony cases and a jury trial when Brooks' case fell to her.

He said the assistant doubling the bail showed how overwhelmed his office has become since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

"That is a decision on its face ... that I believe was inappropriately low given the context of what we knew about the defendant," Chisholm said. "That's human error. It set in motion a chain of events that resulted in a tragedy. Again, I'm not trying to lessen our responsibility for that, but that's it. In essence, that's what you had here, a young (assistant district attorney) trying to do the best she could under tough circumstances and she made a mistake."

The prosecutor who handled his initial appearance, listed in court records as Carole Manchester, still sought the $1,000 cash bail.

Chisholm's office has taken heat for setting bail at $1,000, with critics saying he essentially enabled Brooks to attack the parade.

Chisholm, a Democrat, has pushed for ending cash bail, saying it's not fair to poor defendants. He wants to implement a new system in which only violent offenders are jailed until trial. That's left him walking a fine line between angry residents who hold him at least partly responsible for the carnage at the parade and progressives looking to reduce incarceration rates.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers said at a news conference Thursday that his administration is helping Chisholm investigate what happened.

"I caution people not to jump to conclusions, but there is one conclusion that is obvious: that (Brooks) should not have been out," Evers said. "But we are looking forward to the conclusion to the investigation."

County supervisors pressed Chisholm during the hearing Thursday. Patti Logsdon told him that he needs to get tougher on criminals and keep them all in jail until their cases come up. Steven Shea asked him what he's supposed to tell constituents who feel Milwaukee County's courts are a "revolving door putting violent criminals out on the street."

Chisholm and the county's chief judge, Mary Triggiano, responded by painting a picture of a Milwaukee County court system that has been limping along since the pandemic struck.

Triggiano noted that the county is dealing with a backlog of 1,600 felony cases and 3,100 misdemeanor cases. Chisholm said the jail has a capacity of 920 inmates and is currently housing about 890, including 175 awaiting trial in homicide cases and 100 awaiting trial for first-degree sexual assault alone.

"In this particular case, the (assistant district attorney) didn't make a decision just in a vacuum with lots and lots of time to assess it," Chisholm said. "It doesn't excuse it, but it puts it into context when you're dealing with high volume triage, trying to sort what the most serious offense is, just trying to get the case in the system and move on to the next one, sometimes errors are going to occur."

Waukesha Parade, Darrell Brooks
Darrell Brooks Jr. appears at Waukesha County Court on November 23, 2021 in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Brooks is charged with killing six people and injuring over 60 after driving through a Christmas parade with his sport utility vehicle on November 21. Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm cited an overworked assistant who hadn't seen Brooks' full case file and risk assessment before setting the $1,000 bail he posted two days before the parade. Mark Hoffman/Getty Images