NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) -“We’ve bonded out just over 200 individuals, fellow New Orleanians,” says Jennifer Schnidman.
The New Orleans Safety and Freedom Fund has been bonding people out of jail for more than a year now. Members Jennifer Schnidman and Chris Laibe say their ultimate goal is to eliminate money bail altogether for low-risk offenders.
“We see what we’ve done as sort of a window into the future in New Orleans that we are part of a bigger national movement towards a system that makes us safer without destabilizing families simply for being poor,” says Schnidman.
“I think they are very well-intentioned; however, I think they are very naive as to what they are dealing with, especially with this criminal justice system,” says Leon Cannizzaro.
After hearing the Freedom Fund’s response to why it’s bonding people out of jail, Orleans District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro says he worries about the consequences.
“They are playing a very dangerous game with public safety, and that is my concern,” says Cannizzaro.
Schnidman told FOX 8 that she’s given names of who to consider for a free bond from the Public Defender’s Office.
“Let’s be clear: We are not interested in bonding out individuals that have histories that show they are dangerous and a public safety risk. We are looking at the judge making a determination, and when they set a bond that’s $5,000 or lower, that’s an indication that they are not a threat to public safety,” says Schnidman.
“To take into account simply a bond amount, hoping the judge has considered all of these factors, is a very risky business,” says Cannizzaro.
Cannizzaro points to cases like that of DeQuan Ayers, who police arrested for distribution of marijuana. Officers say he had two-and-half pounds of the drug on him. The Magistrate Commissioner set his bond at $3,500, despite Ayers having a lengthy criminal history that included four felonies, one misdemeanor and a failure to appear four different times.
“And when he is given a $3,500 bond and this group puts up the bond, we find that Mr. Ayers fails to show up in court on two occasions and he is out on the the streets in the French Quarter committing crimes of violence,” says Cannizzaro.
Police arrested Ayers again, this time, they say he robbed and beat a tourist in the French Quarter. FOX 8 obtained the court transcript of Ayer’s arraignment in that case before Judge Karen Herman. When she asked why he failed to return to court after the Freedom Fund bonded him out, he responded, “You know, when I got arrested for that charge, you know, I was in OPP for like a week and half and I went home.”
Judge Herman responded, “Yeah, because a complete stranger posted your bond for you. Someone that you don’t know, a quote/unquote ‘Good Samaritan’ posted your bond.”
“The consequence of letting someone out of jail who may pose a danger to the general community is a very serious situation,” says Cannizzaro.
Ayers pleaded not guilty to the charges against him, and Judge Herman then raised Ayers bond to $50,000.
“Of every 100 individuals that we bail out, the DA will actually refuse the charges and will not prosecute 63 percent of the time, and so that’s just further evidence that the district attorney’s office also looks at the cases and determines there’s no evidence of crime here,” says Schnidman.
“That’s not happening. That hasn’t happened, not in this office, not since we have been here,” says Cannizzaro.
Cannizzaro says his office refuses only about 15 percent of felony cases, and he points out he hasn’t been provided with a list of defendants that the Freedom Fund bonded out to compare it to.
“Without any information, without any of the data that they claim to have, it makes us skeptical of what they are in fact doing,” says Cannizzaro.
FOX 8 asked the Freedom Fund for a list of the individuals they’ve bonded out of jail, but they chose not to give to us.