IssuesLocal NewsDallas County Bail Reform Policies Scrutinized Following Increase in Homicides

The double homicides at Texas A&M Commerce earlier this month carried out by Jacques Dshawn Smith have resulted in greater scrutiny over progressive bail policies in Dallas County.
February 26, 2020
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On Feb. 5, Jacques Dshawn Smith was apprehended for a double-homicide carried out at a Texas A&M Commerce dormitory.

Smith’s girlfriend, Abbaney Matts, and her sister, Deja Matts, were shot to death, and Abbaney Matts’ 2-year-old child was injured. 

Soon after Smith’s apprehension, it became known that the week before the shooting, he had been arrested in Garland, a city in Dallas County, for assaulting Abbaney Matts and threatening to kill her.

A few days after his arrest, a Garland judge released Smith on a $15,000 dollar bond. In addition to the attack on his girlfriend for which he was arrested, Smith also had a prior history of violent crime. He has since been linked to another murder which is considered to be unrelated. 

The murder of Abbaney Matts drew additional attention to a larger trend in the bail system in Dallas County, which was the subject of very vocal frustration in the Dallas City Council’s Public Safety and Criminal Justice Committee.

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During the committee meeting on Feb. 10, the Dallas Police Department presented details regarding the Violent Crime Reduction Plan currently being implemented by DPD in order to address a wave of violent crime which began last year and by the end of December had claimed the lives of 200 murder victims in the city of Dallas. 

Although 2019 had more violent offenses than any year in the last decade, violent offenses in January of 2020 are already higher when compared to those of January 2019. And according to DPD officials, as of Feb. 10, the official homicide count for this year is already at 20. 

Frustration was most evident during the committee meeting, however, when DPD Major Teena Schultz presented a series of slides detailing the results of three warrant roundups in which the police department worked with local and state partners to apprehend 121 individuals with outstanding warrants out for the most violent offenses. 

In the first of these roundups, 70 individuals were apprehended pursuant to warrants for violent offenses. Of those 70 individuals, records showed 25 had already been released by the time the police department presented the results of their initiative to the committee. 

And of those who were released on bond, 23 had prior convictions for violent crime, and 15 had prior violent felony convictions.

An additional slide showed an example of the terms of the release for seven violent offenders. 

All were charged with aggravated assault or aggravated robbery, some with multiple counts, and all had prior violent charges. Even with previous charges of violent crimes on their record, individuals were released on bonds of $1000 to $3000 dollars, and in a few cases, without bond at all. 

Frequently, the individual awaiting trial fronts 10 percent of the total bail amount required by the magistrate, and the remainder is made up by a bail bondsman.

During the committee meeting, and in a flurry of local newspaper editorials after the fact, District Attorney John Creuzot was both blamed and defended.

When asked during her committee meeting presentation who was responsible for making the decision to set the bond amounts, Major Schultz responded, “It’s through the county, the DA’s office, and the judges.” She was quickly corrected by the assistant city manager, Jon Fortune, “I believe it was the magistrate process. It’s the magistrates, not the district attorney.”

But if Schultz was confused about the role of District Attorney Creuzot and the bail reform policy has played in violent crime in Dallas, she isn’t the only one.

In January 2019, John Creuzot was sworn in as district attorney in Dallas County, having successfully run on a platform of progressive criminal justice reform. Three and a half months after taking office, Creuzot announced sweeping policy changes in how the DA’s office would prosecute crime and seek bail reform. 

Seeking to reduce the prison population and to create a justice system more “equitable” to those living in poverty, Creuzot made headlines in April 2019 when he announced the District Attorney’s office would no longer prosecute certain crimes, which among other things included thefts “not for monetary gain” under $750 dollars.

Additionally, he would be seeking to make changes to the cash bond system. 

The changes Creuzot proposed rest on the principle that individuals who allegedly pose no risk to the public should be enabled to wait for their trial date at home, maintaining their working jobs or care for their children, especially if those individuals are already poor and at-risk. 

To accomplish this, he indicated that magistrates should set bail and terms of release based on an individual’s risk to the public as well as the risk of flight, and that any bail amount should have cash bond payments that are low enough for defendants who cannot afford them.

Notably, this risk assessment as envisioned in Creuzot’s plan is not currently in place, which Creuzot claims is due to a lawsuit against Dallas County aimed at reforming the cash bail system.

Creuzot bemoaned the situation, but claims to have little power.

In an interview granted to D-Magazine following the city council meeting, Creuzot defended himself, arguing that magistrates have misunderstood the critical difference between lowering bail for low-level offenders and granting the same to those who pose an imminent risk to society if released on bail.  

To assist them in the task, Creuzot hopes to have a public defender and a prosecutor from his office present at all magistrate hearings, though this will only be possible after the case against Dallas County reaches a resolution.

Assistant Police Chief David Pughes assured the committee that he is engaged in talks with the district attorney as that office seeks to find ways to provide magistrates with information about prior criminal history.

“In the interim,” he continued, “there are things [the police department] can be doing. Looking up criminal history, making the magistrate aware of it—we can do some things on the front end to try to get some of these bonds set at a more acceptable level.” 

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Charity Nicholson

Charity Nicholson

Charity Nicholson graduated from the Honors Academy at Howard Payne University where she double-majored in Political Science and Communication. After working in various state political campaigns and as Director of Constituent Services for Senator Konni Burton, she began working full-time as a mother to two toddlers. When not chasing after tiny humans, Charity enjoys exploring National Parks with her family, reading historical non-fiction, and listening to true-crime podcasts.