As more defendants are released on cash bonds, Evans’ report notes that judges can impose various additional safeguards to protect the public, including ankle bracelets that alert the sheriff’s office with a radio signal if defendants leave their home or tamper with the equipment.
Like Ararsa, 18-year-old Eduardo Venegas was ordered to wear one of these electronic monitoring bracelets when he was released from custody.
A reputed gang member with a juvenile record that included a gun charge, Venegas was arrested in a 2018 car theft, then released on a no-cash bond on his own recognizance, but with the ankle bracelet as an extra precaution.
A month later, Venegas was arrested after he allegedly killed a former friend, Rigoberto Rodriguez, during a fight in the Brighton Park neighborhood. Armed with a .40-caliber handgun, Venegas fired multiple times at Rodriguez, prosecutors said. While awaiting trial, he was also charged with a second murder, the fatal shooting of Dylan Zavala in August 2018. Venegas has pleaded not guilty in both cases.
In response to Tribune questions, Evans’ office provided figures stating that the number of felony defendants released on monetary bond with electronic monitoring rose from 49 in the 15 months before bail reform to 1,122 in the post-reform period.
Dart, the county sheriff, has been a vocal advocate for bail reform but long has called the ankle bracelets a flimsy safeguard.
The bracelets typically are not equipped with GPS trackers, and Dart says he does not have enough staff to follow up quickly on alerts involving the roughly 2,200 defendants wearing the bracelets on any given day.
Using information obtained through public records requests to Dart’s office, the Tribune identified 1,264 felony defendants who allegedly committed new crimes while released pretrial on electronic monitoring in 2018 and the first five months of 2019.
At least four were charged with murder while out on bond, and at least two others were charged with attempted murder. Hundreds were charged with armed robbery, aggravated battery or other gun and drug crimes.
Sorted by ZIP code, the defendants who were charged with new crimes while on electronic monitoring were clustered in communities already struggling with violence, a Tribune analysis found.
The ZIP code with the highest rate of electronic monitoring defendants per 100,000 population was 60624, which covers East Garfield Park and is 92% African American, according to U.S. census figures. Ninety-four electronic monitoring defendants who picked up new charges after being released were hosted inside that ZIP code, the Tribune analysis found.
In his Tribune interview, Evans acknowledged for the first time that he believes the electronic monitoring program is flawed. Data that his office provided later indicated that the number of felony defendants charged with new crimes after being released on a cash bond with electronic monitoring had risen from four pre-reform to 195 afterward.
“I’ll surprise you; I’ll shock you,” Evans said. “I do not believe the public is as secure using electronic monitoring as I’d like to see.”
Evans also revealed in the interview that he is exploring a new approach to safeguarding the public and changing the lives of defendants awaiting trial. “I believe that electronic monitoring is not a viable alternative for us in the future,” he said. “I believe that a better system is cognitive behavioral therapy.”
Assigning therapists to pretrial defendants could be costly, Evans acknowledged, but he said it would result in safer communities by helping the defendants make better choices while out on bond.
“It is designed to change what they might think that they should do,” Evans said. “It’s telling them not to do their first thought. It’s having them think through the alternative, to consider the consequences of their actions.”
Terrell Jones was shot to death in March 2018 while driving through the Back of the Yards neighborhood with his cousin. They were taking a shortcut home.
Prosecutors say Albaro Guerrero-Garcia and another man were armed with assault-style rifles hunting for rival gang members to attack that night.
Guerrero-Garcia had been released from custody on a personal recognizance bond following a felony weapons charge. He did not have to put up any money.
He is now back in jail, awaiting trial in Jones’ murder — one of the 18 post-reform murder defendants Evans did not include in his analysis. Guerrero-Garcia has pleaded not guilty.
Jones was married to his high school sweetheart, and the impact on their three young children has been “indescribable,” said his mother, Jones-Vincent.
“It’s horrible. It’s horrible. He was a hands-on dad. He helped with their homework. He helped with dinner. He picked the children up from school,” she said. “They know that their dad is in heaven, but all the time they say, ‘I miss my daddy.'”
Evans said such stories are agonizing but it is impossible for judges making bail decisions to see into the future. The presumption of innocence, he said, is a foundation of the American criminal justice system.
“Whoever is accused of (murder) is entitled to a trial before we convict that person,” he said.
The period covered by Evans’ analysis ended in December 2018. In the nine months that followed — as Lightfoot, Foxx and others debated the impact of bail reform — 12 more homicides were allegedly committed by felony defendants who were out on bail, the Tribune found.
Among the victims was off-duty police Officer John P. Rivera, who was shot to death in March as he sat in a car outside a River North tavern in what police called a case of mistaken identity. Two of the three men accused in Rivera’s death were out on bond at the time, records show.
Another victim, 15-year-old Jaylin Ellzey, was hit by seven bullets sprayed from a passing car in May in the Roseland community.
His alleged attacker, Antawan Smith, had earlier been released on a $6,000 cash bond after police said they caught him with a loaded semi-automatic handgun and six plastic bags of crack cocaine following a car chase. Smith has pleaded not guilty in Ellzey’s murder.
Smith’s criminal history includes convictions for drug dealing and illegally carrying a gun, court records show.
“If he (Smith) had been locked up on the case he already had, my son would be here,” said Sabrina McCauley, Ellzey’s mother. “It’s a hurting feeling, burying your child.”
Also among the homicides identified by the Tribune was West Side mother Brittany Hill, 24, who was shot fatally in May while shielding her toddler daughter, Ja-Miley, from gunfire on the street. Prosecutors called Hill an inadvertent victim.
“My baby was only 1 year old. She is not going to feel her mother’s love,” said Ja-Miley’s father, Jacob Jones.
The alleged shooter, Michael Washington, had been released on a no-cash, personal recognizance bond after being charged with misdemeanor resisting an officer, and had violated that bond by failing to appear in court. Washington, who has pleaded not guilty in Hill’s murder, had numerous prior convictions including second-degree murder and was on parole at the time after serving prison time for drug dealing.
Judges who make the decision on bonds are “living in a high tower” and don’t pay a price for their decisions, said Hill’s father, James Hill, while he and other West Side residents are “living in the valley.”
“There should be something that keeps them in.”
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