Boston's "Bail Fund" is freeing more than just protesters

In case you’re not familiar with the Massachusetts Bail Fund, it’s an organization that’s been around for a while and is opposed to the concept of cash bail, providing money to bail out low-income suspects who can’t afford the cost themselves. Up until the recent George Floyd protests began, it was a relatively modest operation, relying on the generosity of donors and paying bail amounts of less than $500. But once the protests and riots began ginning up, business for the non-profit suddenly became very good. They reportedly took in $31 million dollars in only a couple of months, primarily from people who believed that they were helping to bail out “protesters” who had been “unfairly” arrested for various charges.

And it’s true that MBF did indeed bail out quite a few people who had been picked up during the protests, including those accused of far more than just raising their voices, such as looters and arsonists. But those weren’t the only people being sprung free. As the Boston Globe reports this week, their newly fattened coffers have allowed them to begin bailing out people being held on very high amounts of bail in the tens of thousands of dollars. And some of them were behind bars on very serious charges.

But its sudden prosperity has led the Bail Fund into controversial territory as many of the prisoners they have bailed out face increasingly serious, often violent, charges, and some have long criminal records.

Donors who rushed to support bail funds after the Floyd death likely thought they were helping to bail out jailed protesters, who typically face bail of up to a few hundred dollars. The fund bailed out scores of protesters arrested during the Boston demonstrations, but it has set free many facing more serious charges as well. [Joel] Rodriguez, for example, had been in jail for nine months before his release, serving time for assaulting and harassing several victims, according to court records. Now he’s out on bail for additional domestic violence charges, which he described to the Globe as “problems of love.”

Joel Rodriguez, mentioned in the excerpt above, was not arrested as part of any George Floyd protest. He’d previously spent nine months in jail for assault and harassment. This time he was awaiting $1,100 cash bail on charges of domestic violence and abuse. (What he referred to as “love problems.”)

But the $1,100 MBF put up to spring Rodriguez was small potatoes compared to the whopping $85,000 they spent the following day to free Karmau Cotton-Landers. He was accused of shooting someone in broad daylight on Boston Common in April. The police found the handgun he’d used and extra ammunition on him at the time of his arrest.

Another beneficiary of MBF’s largess was Darren McFadden, who actually had attended a George Floyd protest back in May. But his “peaceful protesting” also allegedly included busting up and looting at least one store. On top of that, Mr. McFadden’s interest in five-finger discounts long predated his civic activism for racial equality. He’d already run up more than 60 arrests, including a three-year stretch for armed robbery. But MBF sprang him loose along with everyone else.

The Globe article goes on to list even more suspects who were turned loose. They include one guy who robbed five women at knifepoint, one who robbed a gas station with a gun, and the real gem in the collection was a guy named Otis Walker who was awaiting trial on three counts of child rape.

I can understand how some people who are too poor to afford fifty bucks for bail can wind up stuck in jail for long periods on minor charges. And even if I don’t necessarily agree, I can see the argument for some charitable group helping them get back to their families if they’re likely to show up for their trials. But it sounds like Massachusetts Bail Fund was acting more like someone going on a drunken shopping spree with all of the new cash flowing into their account, springing everyone and anyone they came across. Some of those people are held on high bail amounts for a reason. And if any of them wind up back on the recidivism list this summer for anything serious. the press should be demanding some answers from MBF.