INDIANAPOLIS — Marion County's criminal court judges suspended their support for The Bail Project, a non-profit that pays bail for defendants who otherwise could not afford it.
"The Criminal Term of the Marion Superior Court voted to suspend its support of The Bail Project effective immediately until further review and collection of data," Presiding Judge Amy Jones said in a Dec. 15 letter to The Bail Project's National Director of Operations David Gaspar.
Jones' letter tells The Bail Project it should no longer submit a prior letter of support issued in 2018 when it posts a bail. The suspension means any bail money paid by The Bail Project will be returned to the defendant at the completion of the case, instead of being returned to The Bail Project. It will be up to the defendants to return the money to the group.
Gaspar, The Bail Project's national director of operations, said the courts seem to be singling them out.
"Judges set cash bail and once they do, it should not matter who posts the bail, whether it is a family member, a bail bonds company, or a charity like ours," Gaspar said in a statement emailed to WRTV. "The fact that our not-for-profit is being singled out for requirements is concerning."
The judges voted during a closed-door meeting on Monday, Jones told WRTV. They have asked The Bail Project representatives to provide additional information — including a list of all defendants they've assisted since 2018 — at their Jan. 10 meeting. The judges could vote again on The Bail Project at that meeting.
"We have invited The Bail Project to come and provide the additional information we've requested so we can do a deeper dive, have an opportunity to ask them questions," Jones said in a interview via Zoom. "Then we will have an opportunity once that occurs to discuss further and figure out if we're going to continue to suspend that support that was done in 2018, (or) if we're going to rescind that support or the next steps for the courts."
Jones said The Bail Project promised to give quarterly reports to the courts, but it only provided three reports in 2019 and one in 2021. According to the group's latest report, which was provided to WRTV by the court, The Bail Project posted bail for 941 defendants in 1,129 cases. The average bail amount was $2,130.
The Bail Project has drawn attention recently after three defendants they've assisted were later accused of violent crimes.
- In January, The Bail Project paid $1,500 to bail Marcus Garvin out of Marion County Jail on charges of felony battery after he allegedly stabbed a man at an east-side convenience store in December 2019. Garvin was free on bail and wearing a GPS ankle bracelet on July 24 when Marion County prosecutors say he stabbed Christie Holt to death at an east-side motel on July 24. Garvin was charged with murder on Aug. 3.
- Also in January, the group paid a portion of the bail for Travis Lang who had been jailed on a cocaine-possession charge. On Oct. 1, prosecutors say Lang shot Dylan McGinnis to death and wounded a woman in a car on the east side. Lang was charged with murder, attempted murder, robbery and other crimes.
- In April, The Bail Project paid a $750 bail that freed Deonta Williams, who had been jailed on a felony burglary charge. Williams, 20, is accused of making a fake 911 call to lure two Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officers to his location before he stabbed them in an unprovoked attack. Prosecutors charged Williams with attempted murder.
The Bail Project gets some of its money from Indianapolis taxpayers, WRTV reported on Aug. 6.
The group was awarded two grants totaling $150,000 through the city's crime-prevention grant programs, according to the Central Indiana Community Foundation. The city grants support The Bail Project's services outside of court that reduce recidivism and aim to make sure defendants appear for their hearings. The public money is not used for bail, according to The Bail Project and the community foundation that awarded the grants on the city's behalf.
Gaspar said The Bail Project plans to continue operating in Marion County.
"We stand by the value of our services in helping people who are too poor to afford bail and we look forward to discussing our program directly with the court to address the topics raised in this letter," Gaspar said. "In the meantime, we will continue providing bail assistance as we have for nearly 1,000 low-income Hoosiers to date, particularly with the holidays around the corner when so many families are separated because they cannot afford bail for a loved one."
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Contact WRTV reporter Vic Ryckaert at email@example.com or on Twitter: @vicryc.