(WXYZ) Detroit, Mich. - Detroit's police chief is hailing the results of a Channel 7 investigation that's put serious felons behind bars, and is poised to recover taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in overdue bond money.
The Action News Investigators have been keeping tabs on the region's bail bond system since they first exposed major deficiencies back in February.
In just the last month, men who fled from serious charges--felony firearm, fleeing from police and attempted murder--have been captured and are set to face a judge.
These accused criminals and scores of others, were recently apprehended thanks to changes made to Wayne County Circuit Court's bond system. As Channel 7's initial investigation showed, many accused criminals who failed to appear in court weren't pursued, and their bail bond companies weren't notified to look for them. The lion's share of their bond money--an estimated $90 million--was not pursued.
Judge Timothy Kenny heads up Wayne County Circuit Court's criminal division, and quickly took action when made aware of Channel 7's findings.
For the last month, the court has been holding hearings every day, instructing bond companies to find their clients, accused criminals who avoided their day in court, or--if they can't be found--collect the forfeited bond money owed to taxpayers. In the four weeks since the hearings started, the payoff to taxpayers has already been sizable: so far, the court has entered judgments totaling more than $420,000. Court officials expect to collect much more for cash-strapped Wayne County.
"We are not just content with the notion of just collecting the $421,000," said Third Circuit Court Judge Timothy Kenny.
"We think that this is an effort that needs to be ongoing."
But more important than money are the scores of accused criminals who've now been apprehended. Before our report, most criminals who skipped out on court weren't pursued, and the court didn’t tell bond companies they were on the run.
Now that's changed, and bond companies have been notified to find people like Michael Bradley, charged with felony firearm. He was sentenced to two years in prison.
Deshun Jackson is another serious criminal who fled from his date with justice. Last September, he was charged with five felonies, including assault with intent to murder after shooting a man eight times. Incredibly, he survived.
Jackson disappeared in December, and his bail bond company never knew he fled. Once the court finally told the company that he was on the run, they found him, hiding in plain sight in a Detroit home.
"I used a weapon to assault with intent to commit murder," Jackson said in open court.
Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee applauded the court's renewed effort at reforming its bond system, acknowledging that criminals knew they could exploit the system.
"Quite frankly, some felons thought it was a joke," he said.
Godbee says the new changes made to the bond system have filled a gaping hole in region’s courts that felons learned to exploit.
"There have been some pretty significant felons taken off the street," Godbee said.
"The bail bonds companies are now engaged in going after some of those felons. It has teeth now."
Justin Butler is president of the bail bond company that found Deshun Jackson, and while he's pleased with the court's progress in locating accused criminals and collecting bond money, he says the system has a long way to go.
That's because the most common form of bond isn't being collected yet. It's known as deposit bond; that's when a defendant, family member or friend puts up a small portion of their total bond themselves. If the defendant doesn't show up to court, the rest of the money is supposed to be collected by the court.
But Wayne County hasn't yet started going after the almost $65 million in potentially forfeited deposit bond, opting instead to go after bail bond companies who are easier to collect from. Bond companies make up an estimated $20 million in potential money owed to taxpayers.
Judge Kenny admits, it's harder to go after individuals than bond companies. And one of the biggest reasons is that defendants simply can't afford to pay the full bond that they’re given.
"The question becomes, are they good for it," Kenny said.
"If it happens to be someone's grandmother, who may have scraped together her last nickels to get their grandson or granddaughter out on bond, they may not be good for the remaining 90%," he said.
For that reason and others, bail agents like Butler insist it's time to reevaluate the region's bond system, and give out fewer deposit bonds.
"The deposit bond system just doesn't work," said Butler.
"It's been proven time and time again in cities across the country, it doesn't work, it creates a backlog of warrants, the bonds are uncollectible. It just doesn't work."
Judge Kenny and representatives from prosecutor Kym Worthy’s office, as well as Wayne County’s Corporation Counsel are still formulating a plan to pursue the rest of that $65 million.
In the meantime, they’ll keep turning up the heat on accused criminals who tried to outrun the legal system, like Deshun Jackson who we told you about earlier. His run came to an end this month, when he was sentenced to prison for up to 20 years.
Last week, also as a result of our investigation, 36th District Court began holding show-cause hearings for the first time in its history: it's the first step in pursuing accused criminals, or collecting their bond money if they can't be found.
If you have a tip for the Action News Investigative Team, contact us at (248) 827-9466 or at email@example.com .
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