Organization that bonds suspected criminals out of jail raises concern

Updated: Oct. 12, 2018 at 1:39 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - “This is a person that does his criminal trade in the French Quarter. He sells drugs and he commits acts of violence,” says Leon Cannizzaro.

DeQuan Ayers faces multiple charges at Criminal District Court. When police arrested him in June for distribution of marijuana, they say he had two and half pounds of it on him.

Ayers, though, got out of jail on a $3,500 bond - but he didn’t pay a dime.

Concerns grow over organization bonding suspected criminals out of jail.
Concerns grow over organization bonding suspected criminals out of jail.

“Someone essentially posted, for a lack of better term, a complimentary bond for this person. My understanding is there is no relationship between the defendant and the person who posted the bond,” says Cannizzaro.

Ayers’ bail order shows Jennifer Schnidman bonded him out. She’s a member of the New Orleans Freedom Fund.

“My appreciation is that funds are donated to them, and they somehow determine who they are going to post bail for,” says Rafael Goyeneche.

The New Orleans Freedom Fund is an organization that bonds people out of jail. In Ayer’s case, after the organization bonded him out, he failed to appear in court - twice. The judge issued a warrant for his arrest.

That arrest came Wednesday afternoon, when police say he committed second-degree battery and simple robbery in the French Quarter. Now, Ayers is being held without bond.

“This individual was involved in the French Quarter again. This time it was with a robbery involving a tourist and a felony battery with that tourist,” says Cannizzaro.

Rafael Goyneche of the Metropolitan Crime Commission calls what the New Orleans Freedom Fund is doing a high stakes game.

“These third parties that are posting bail need to realize that this isn’t just a civic endeavor, that some of the decisions that they make may affect people’s lives in that if some these offenders out and re-offend, we are not talking about a few dollars, we are talking about serious injury,” says Goyeneche.

We reached out to members of the organization for comment, but we have not heard back. Court records show at least two members signing bail orders: Jennifer Schnidman and Joshua Cox.

According to the Secretary of State, Cox registered the New Orleans Freedom Fun as a low profit liability company in May of 2017. He’s listed as the manager and member.

Cox is also a member of Mayor Latoya Cantrell’s administration as the director of strategic initiatives.

“Has the city determined and investigated to see how this program is being operated? Are they satisfied with having their employees actively engaging in posting bail for people that the police department put in the jail? I don’t know the answer to that. Those are questions I would like to see answered by this administration in all of this,” says Goyeneche.

We reached out to Mayor Cantrell’s office, and they released this statement: “Mayor Cantrell has complete faith in Mr. Cox, and objection to the work he does independently with the Freedom Fun on his own time. The Mayor is not aware of any impropriety, nor is she aware of any conflict with his work as part of the administration.”

Cox is also an attorney.

“There’s actually a statute that says attorneys are not supposed to be posting bail. There may be a distinction here because it’s not his money. If I was him, I would seek an attorney general’s opinion. I would certainly bring it to my employer and ask them about it, particularly since it’s the city that’s responsible for the people that are in that jail because it’s the police department that put them in the jail,” says Goyeneche.

It’s unclear how the organization is funded or how they decide who to bond out.

We asked the Public Defender’s Office if it was notifying the organization about the individuals who needed bail money. The Public Defender’s Office spokesperson, Lindsey Hortensteine, told FOX 8 they weren’t aware of an organization called the New Orleans Freedom Fund, but they do notify individuals they call bond angels about inmates who need bond money. She didn’t confirm whether Schnidman or Cox were “bond angels,” but she did says she recognized the names.

“The Public Defenders' obligation is to their clients, not to the Freedom Fund, so their ethical obligations are to the people that are in jail. So if the Freedom Fund is relying on the Public Defender’s Office, then they’re allowing a partisan party in this equation,” says Goyeneche.

“My concern, of course, is with the victims and witnesses of crime. Those are the people that need to be most concerned about. Unfortunately, with this complimentary bails and very low bonds the victims and witnesses of crimes are forgotten about. They are not considered,” says Cannizzaro.

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