Officers address why they feel the bond system is broken

That’s the dollar amount suspects pay to get out of jail until their trial.
Some of these suspects charged in crimes like robberies and shootings are back on the streets long before they head back to a courtroom.
Published: May. 11, 2023 at 6:27 AM EDT|Updated: May. 11, 2023 at 1:12 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Every day across Charlotte, crimes are committed, arrests are made and court appearances take place.

Depending on the severity of the crimes, bonds are set. That’s the dollar amount suspects pay to get out of jail until their trial.

Some of these suspects charged in crimes like robberies and shootings are back on the streets long before they head back to a courtroom.

In some of those cases, this is the result of low bonds. The impact that issue can have on a community is clear.

But the impact on the men and women whose job it is to make arrests is often a footnote to a headline.

WBTV spoke to a few different members of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department to ask about the pretrial release system.

Oftentimes, repeat criminals are released on seemingly-low bond amounts, and get back out on the streets.

Officer Robinson, who asked that his first name not be used, patrols the Metro Division in Charlotte. He is regularly in the area surrounding Beatties Ford Road. He said it is not uncommon to encounter people who have been charged with serious crimes that are out of jail on bond.

“The bond system doesn’t keep people in jail for any length of time. You arrest them and they’ll get back out the same night, maybe an hour later and you’re back dealing with them all over again,” explained Robinson.

Robinson’s partner, Officer Nugent, who also asked that his first name not be used, said he too has seen people accused of serious crimes out of jail shortly after being charged.

“We see a lot of the same faces just driving around 10 hours a day, and we’ll know ‘that guy just did a shooting two months ago’ and here he is buying cigarettes at the gas station,” elaborated Nugent.

Both men said they had arrested Octavis Wilson, a suspect accused of serious sex crimes. Shortly after Wilson’s arrest, a judge lowered his bond from $2 million to $50,000. Robinson spoke about his reaction to the judge’s decision.

“I was about to not come to work that next day. Why are we out here doing this job if we’re not getting backed up on the other end?” questioned Robinson.

Wilson’s attorney, Michael Kolb, said Wilson is currently in a state hospital undergoing a mental evaluation. No statement was issued about the charges Wilson is facing.

Sgt. Matthew Freeman, a detective with the CMPD, said he has also dealt with repeat offenders.

Freeman said he arrested a man by the name of Khalil Prater on Feb. 8, 2022. Prater had been charged with a robbery. He was released from jail a couple of weeks after his arrest.

Then, just days after his release, Prater was arrested for another robbery on March 1, 2022. Jail records show he was released again just weeks after that arrest.

“You just say, ‘Well, why am I even bothering doing this if they’re just gonna be back out on the street? I’m just gonna have to do it all over again,’” explained Freeman.

Kolb also represents Prater on state charges. No statement was issued about the charges against him.

Robinson, Nugent and Freeman agreed that the bond system needs to be changed.

“It’s not a good process. It doesn’t work out very well. It needs to be changed,” said Robinson.

Charlotte leaders, including the police chief and district attorney, have continued to call out the bond system.

WBTV took the questions and concerns of the CMPD officers to Elizabeth Trosch, Mecklenburg County’s chief district court judge. She assigns judges to preside over court sessions and oversees all of Mecklenburg County’s 39 magistrates.

The judge explained that the pretrial release system is not designed solely to protect the public.

“Bond is not punishment. Bond is about court appearance,” noted Trosch. “The statute requires us to set a secured bond if we find evidence that a person is likely to cause danger to property or persons. So a judge might consider that if deciding what conditions of release should be imposed.”

Trosch said the state’s current bond system is outlined by a North Carolina state statute. She explained that bond is required to ensure a court appearance, but is not a specific dollar amount that corresponds to a specific criminal charge.

Trosch would not say if she has ever felt a bond amount was set too low, but did speak about the interaction she has with magistrates regarding the pretrial release system.

“I regularly engage in coaching, counsel, and training with magistrates around setting conditions of release,” she explained.

While Trosch did not speak about specific bonds set by magistrates, she did acknowledge that there is an issue with the current pretrial release system.

“We’re having this debate about, ‘C’mon Judge, can’t you just agree, set a higher bond?’ Right? Well, maybe the problem is a bond system that relies on money that centers around appearing in court, rather than having a system that really is designed to deal with the very real situation that some people pose a risk to our community pending trial and should not be released into the community,” elaborated the judge.

Trosch said that legislation currently being discussed at the state level could change the bond system.

House Bill 813, the Pretrial Integrity Act, would change the laws related to pretrial release in North Carolina and would take away the responsibility of magistrates to set bail for some violent offenses.

Instead of magistrates, judges would set bonds for some alleged offenders. Trosch explained that this new system would allow judicial officials to gather more information about a case and defendant before setting a bond for the individual.

“By, I think, investing that authority with a district court judge instead of a magistrate you’re putting it a little further down the line in the process where there’s a greater opportunity to have more information,” explained Trosch.

The Pretrial Integrity Act has passed in the state House and was referred to a committee in the state Senate.

The proposed legislation has the support of several lawmakers as well as CMPD Police Chief Johnny Jennings.