In Part 2 of our series on Philadelphia, we take a look at how criminals are defying the broken 10% bail system in Philadelphia. This defiance and lack of oversight of fugitives has led to an increase of criminals on the streets and an uncollectable bail debt of over $1 Billion. AIA has put this 4-part Insight series together based on a sequence of articles The Philadelphia Inquirer ran from December 13 – December 16, 2009. Last week we covered Part 1: Deposit Bail Has Failed Philadelphia; this week Part 2 covers Criminals Defy The Broken 10% Deposit Bail System. Stay tuned for the remaining installments on how Philadelphia is so drastically affected by a broken bail system.
Philadelphia Series, Part 2 of 4: Criminals Defy Broken 10% Deposit Bail System
There is an overwhelming amount of Philadelphia fugitives on the streets due to the city’s deeply flawed 10% deposit bail program. Philadelphia is owed over $1 billion in uncollected bail forfeited monies by criminal defendants who skip court and return to the streets. There is no one who collects the remaining 90% of their bond when they do not appear for their court appearances. This has created an unsafe environment for everyone. Victims are victimized again and new ones are produced. It is a nasty cycle that seems to be never-ending. Recent district attorney candidate, Michael Untermeyer, said, “The system is insane. We might as well put up a sign that reads ‘Come to Philadelphia – for the restaurants, the theater, and to be a criminal.’”(1)
Twenty-three-year-old John Gassew is taking advantage of the offer. He has been arrested forty-four times, mostly for armed robbery. But legally, Gassew is not an armed robber; he’s never been convicted. Gassew has bashed a delivery man over the head with a bat, shot at a 13-year-old neighbor, and smashed in the face of a robbery victim, and yet has only been sentenced to jail one time, for a drug charge. This is a story that Philadelphians hear time and time again. Criminals are gaining confidence as they are nourished by a continuously failing 10% deposit bail system. Small-time criminals are evolving and getting away with more violent acts. According to Detective Robert Conn of the Northeast Detective Division, “The bad guys know that if they come in the front door, the back door is usually open.”(2)
Gassew has beaten cases time and time again, including three trials in which he was found not guilty after witnesses changed their story or were found not credible. “Twenty-three years old and 44 priors. There’s no excuse for that,“ said Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey. “A second chance? OK. A third chance? OK. But how about a 30th? At some point, you have to realize this guy’s a menace to society. You can’t keep cranking him out,” said Ramsey.(2) Veteran defendants like Gassew know how the system works; their cases are born and then die in court. Of robbery and aggravated-assault cases filed in 2006 and 2007 in Municipal Court, about half were immediately tossed or withdrawn. The evidence of systemic failure is massive: “If there’s no certitude of being caught and being incarcerated, paying that 10 percent to the clerk is just a price of doing business to these people,“ Dennis Bartlett, executive director of the American Bail Coalition said.(1)
Gassew’s cases have been entangled for two years in the failings of Philadelphia’s criminal court system. All but one of twenty-one cases stemming from an alleged December 2007 crime spree of holdups has been withdrawn. All of Gassew’s witnesses decided for one reason or another not to testify; the one who didn’t give up was Emily Poe. She went to
court multiple times and waited hours, only to sit in the hallway. Months went by with no news, until she got a shocking call from a police officer friend: Gassew had been shot by police after allegedly robbing several convenience stores. “I thought, ‘That’s impossible. He’s in jail. How could you rob 45 people with a deadly weapon and still get out?’”(2) Gassew had been released on his 10% deposit bail and within days was back on the street and committing crimes again.
AIA, the bail industry’s leader in agent service, national coverage, bail written and number of agents, is devoted to stop deposit bail and keep fugitives off the streets. If surety bail was reintroduced in Philadelphia, defendants would be held accountable for their actions and many lives would be protected and possibly saved. For more information about the failure of deposit bail across the United States, visit www.depositbailtruth.com to request a copy of AIA’s booklet, “Government Sponsored Deposit Bail: A Failed System.”
(1) Dylan Purcell, Craig R. McCoy, and Nancy Phillips, “Violent Criminals Flout Broken Bail System.” The Philadelphia Inquirer, December 13-16 2009, Part III of “Justice: Delayed Dismissed, Denied.”
(2) John Sullivan, Emilie Lounsberry, and Dylan Purcell, “Gun Arrests Galore, No Convictions At All” The Philadelphia Inquirer, December 13-16 2009, Part IV of “Justice: Delayed Dismissed, Denied.”
Part 2: Criminals Defy Broken 10% Deposit Bail System