Investigators: Danger high, bail low - felony suspects turned loose


by CHRIS INGALLS / KING 5 Investigators

Bio | Email | Follow: @cjingalls

Posted on February 4, 2010 at 11:55 PM

The case of Maurice Clemmons exposed many serious flaws in Washington's criminal justice system.

The KING 5 Investigators have found that one of them is routinely used by felons to get out of jail within hours of their arrests. We found that the jail system often hands felons a “get out of jail” card, as it did to Clemmons before he killed four Lakewood police officers.

The case that left Octavier Bushnell scarred is an example. The 27-year old Spanaway man was shot last year when some strangers showed up for a party at the house he shared with friends. A fight followed and one of the young men started shooting.

“The bullet was still stuck in my body after the shooting,” said Bushnell. “They had to surgically remove the bullet."

Bushnell's roommate and best friend, John Stratton, wasn't involved and turned to get away as the first blasts were fired. Both roommates were shot in the back. Stratton collapsed and died.

“John was a good person. He touched a lot of people's lives. So this is what this cross is for," Bushnell said as he stands next to a four-foot-high white cross erected on the property where the shooting happened.

Within hours after the shooting, Pierce County sheriff's detectives arrested a prime suspect, 19-year-old Jacob Hadley.

On the Sunday morning Hadley was booked into the Pierce County jail there was no judge working to determine bail. So jailers followed a fixed bail chart set by the superior court, a so-called "booking bail."

It lists a $50,000 bail for murder 2, Hadley's charge.  

The cell door opened for Hadley just 17 hours after his arrest for murder. He walked out of jail a free man.

Until we told him, Bushnell didn't know the man accused of shooting him in the back was free while emotions from the crime were still running high.

"What if this man would have come back? We were back at home,” said Bushnell. “What if he could have came back and finished me off? That's not right."

A KING 5 Investigation reveals thousands of felony suspects released in the same manner in Washington State, hours after their arrests and without seeing a judge.

Our public records request revealed that the Pierce County jail alone released 2,136 felons on booking bail in less than two years.

Among those released: a half-dozen homicide suspects, 23 inmates accused of rapes or assaults on children, 116 felons caught carrying guns and 324 suspects arrested for felony assault.

“The booking bail system is one size fits all and not all defendants are alike,” said Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist. “The booking bail system doesn't take into account a criminal history, danger to the community and other factors that a judge would take into account at a hearing."

Indeed, when Hadley finally appeared in court, a judge learned of his violent criminal history dating back to age 12 and that $50,000 jailhouse bail ballooned to $1 million.

Hadley is now behind bars and awaiting trial.

Lakewood cop killer Maurice Clemmons, a man with a long criminal history, was released on booking bail last summer after an assault on a deputy. We now know he was accused of molesting two girls the day after his release.

"The booking bail system doesn't make sense for violent offenders, people who are charged, for example, with murder," said Lindquist.

It doesn't make sense and most states apparently don't use it.

Bail bond and court organizations tell the KING 5 Investigators that granting bail to felons without the court's review is a rare practice nationwide. Yet we found five counties in Western Washington using a "booking bail" type system.

In Pierce County there’s another problem. Some in the criminal justice system say booking bail amounts are too low for many violent crimes.

Hadley's $50,000 bail is an example. Using a bail bonds company, which assures the court he's good for the money, Hadley likely had to pay only a few thousand dollars upfront for release on a murder charge.

"I would hope the courts review the bail amounts and increase the bail amounts to an appropriate level," said Lindquist.

But no such review is underway, according to Pierce County Superior Court Judge Bryan Chushcoff, who turned down repeated requests for an on-camera interview with the KING 5 Investigators.

The court's judges set up the booking bail system decades ago and its use means judges don't have to work holidays and weekends, even though crime is a 24/7 enterprise.

“That just doesn’t make sense to me,” said Bushnell. “I have no words for that.”

All Washington County jails may be forced to eliminate booking bail. There’s a bill before the State legislature right now that would ban it statewide.