Waukesha Christmas Parade Massacre
A serial criminal murdered five and injured dozens.
I awoke yesterday to news that a man had driven through a Christmas parade in the Milwaukee suburbs, killing several people and injuring many more. There was little to go on and no reason to speculate on what was, after all, a local story in another locality. Now, a suspect is in custody and there are serious questions as to why he was a free man.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (“Darrell Brooks is the suspect in the Waukesha Christmas Parade incident. The Milwaukee man has been charged with crimes 10 times since 1999.“)
The driver who plowed through a Christmas parade in downtown Waukesha, killing five people and injuring nearly 50, did so intentionally and is expected to face first-degree homicide counts and other charges, police said Monday.
The suspect, Darrell Brooks Jr., 39, recently had been released from custody in a strikingly similar case, in which he was accused of driving over a woman during a domestic dispute, sending her to the hospital and leaving tire marks on her pant leg.
The Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office, which is prosecuting that case, said Monday it was launching an internal review of a prosecutor’s “inappropriately low” $1,000 bail recommendation. The bail amount was signed off on by a court commissioner.
The horrific scene Sunday evening tore at the heart of the Waukesha community and rippled outward from the Norman Rockwell-style parade that has been a six-decade tradition. At least 18 children were among the injured, 10 of whom remained in Children’s Wisconsin’s intensive care unit.
“Last night, that parade became a nightmare,” Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly said Monday.
Investigators learned Brooks was involved in a “domestic disturbance” before he drove into the parade route, the chief said. There was a report of a knife being involved, but police were unable to confirm that as of Monday afternoon, he added.
[Police Chief Daniel] Thompson said a police chase did not lead to the driver’s actions but Thompson said he would not be providing more details about the suspect’s motivations at this point. The chief said there was no sign the event was an act of domestic terrorism. Waukesha prosecutors expect to file formal charges Tuesday.
The suspect’s earlier interactions with the criminal justice system quickly drew scrutiny Monday. He has two open court felony cases in Milwaukee County. In July 2020, he was charged with three felonies after being accused of firing a gun during an argument with a relative.
Earlier this month, a woman told police that Brooks purposefully ran her “over with his vehicle” while she was walking through a gas station parking lot after he had followed her there after a fight, according to the criminal complaint.
Brooks was arrested and charged Nov. 5 in the case.
The $1,000 bail recommended by prosecutors, and accepted by the court commissioner, was “inappropriately low” given the nature of the charges, according to a statement Monday from the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office, led by District Attorney John Chisholm. The assistant district attorney who appeared at the hearing where bail was set was Carole Manchester.
The bail also was not consistent with the office’s approach to cases “involving violent crime, nor was it consistent with the risk assessment of the defendant prior to setting of bail,” the statement read.
“This office is currently conducting an internal review of the decision to make the recent bail recommendation in this matter in order to determine the appropriate next steps.”
Wisconsin requires payment for the full amount of bail set in any criminal case.
An attorney representing Brooks in his current Milwaukee County case declined to answer questions about the most recent charge there. The attorney, Joseph Domask, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he is not representing him in the Waukesha incident.
The suspect has a history of criminal allegations involving violence, court records show.
He has been charged with crimes 10 times since 1999, when Brooks pleaded guilty at 17 years old to a felony charge of inflicting substantial bodily harm against another person, according to court records. He also has been cited for traffic and disorderly conduct offenses.
A decade ago, during a traffic stop, a Milwaukee police officer jumped inside Brooks’ car, fearing he was about to be run over. The officer had pulled him over for not wearing a seat belt. As Brooks began to drive away while the officer was talking to him, the officer got inside the car and wrestled for control of the steering wheel.
Eventually, the officer was able to stop the car and removed the keys. Brooks ran away from the car, court records say, and he was arrested hiding in a children’s playhouse in the same block. He later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge in that case.
More recently, Brooks was charged in July 2020 with two felony counts of second-degree recklessly endangering safety and possession of a firearm by a felon. He was accused of getting into a fight with a relative and then firing a gun at the relative and a friend, according to court records.
According to court records, on Nov. 2, Brooks knocked on the door of a woman staying at a Milwaukee hotel, yelling profanities. She opened the door and tried to walk past him, but he snatched her phone and drove off, records say.
The woman was later walking toward a gas station when Brooks pulled up alongside her and demanded she get in the car, the criminal complaint said.
When she refused, he punched her in the face and then as she walked away through the gas station parking lot until Brooks ran her over his vehicle, a 2010 maroon Ford Escape, the complaint says. The vehicle is similar to the description of the SUV involved in the parade tragedy.
Brooks also had an outstanding warrant in Nevada, the USA TODAY Network confirmed late Monday. In 2016, police in the city of Sparks arrested him, saying he failed to obey sex offender laws. He posted bail but later failed to appear in court, records show.
When I first read about the case, I wondered how it was that the parade route wasn’t blocked off. In DC and its Northern Virginia suburbs, at least, police erect and man barricades all around parades, fairs, demonstrations, and any other organized event taking place in the streets to prevent someone running over people, whether accidentally or intentionally. Now, it seems, this is the least of the questions about the competence of local police in this matter.
That Brooks’ bail in the one case was “inappropriately low” is obvious but at least has some explanation. After the July 2020 incident cited above,
His bail was set at $10,000 and then reduced to $7,500. Prosecutors were prepared to go forward with his jury trial on Feb. 9, according to the district attorney’s office’s statement. Brooks was still in custody at that time and had made a speedy trial demand, but because another jury trial was in progress in the same court, the case was postponed. After hearing arguments from Brooks’ attorney, bail was dropped to $500 by Milwaukee County Judge David Feiss, online records show.
Judging from the limited evidence available to me, Brooks was not a man of means. While he’s decidedly less than a model citizen, he has a Constitutional right to a speedy trial and he should not be forced to sit in jail for months on end simply because the municipality has underfunded its court system.
But I’m baffled as to how someone with such a long track record of violent offenses—including trying to run a police officer over!—has managed to stay a free man so long. Additionally—and I’m admittedly going out on a bit of a limb here—this seems yet another example of our near-total lack of mental health infrastructure in this country. Brooks is almost certainly not well.
UPDATE (0628): Shortly after posting, I see that serial fabulist Andy Ngo has alleged that Brooks is some sort of BLM activist and the lunatic Marjorie Taylor Greene is helping spread the notion that this was some sort of retribution for the Kyle Rittenhouse acquittal. The evidence that this was politically motivated is negligible and, in light of what we know about Brooks’ past endeavors and policing in that part of the country, it seems far-fetched, indeed.
How has he stayed free so long? He’s white, isn’t he? After all, if he were a menace to society, he’d be a recently (within four generations) arrived foreigner or have brown skin or in some other way stand out in a crowd.
And there’s no reason to assume he’s mentally ill beyond the delusion that he’s above petty legal considerations like not hitting people because he feels like it.
A better question might be: why does our (admittedly overworked and under-resourced) justice system let guys like this off with a slap on the wrist even though there’s a constant, accelerating pattern of violence over the course of years? How many other guys who fit the same pattern are walking around with restraining order they ignore and monetary fines that don’t rise higher than the level of temporary inconvenience? How many killers in recent years have “domestic disturbance” records in their background?
There’s a dangerous conception of what it means to be a man underlying a lot of society’s view of these guys. It’s changing, not as bad as it was when I was a young man, but still a persistent thread running through our social fabric. When obeying the rules is seen as some kind of gutlessness or cowardice, then lashing out or even killing is a step over an almost invisible line.
We live in a society of walking powder kegs with almost no sense of personal restraint.
@Not the IT Dept.:
He is not.
I didn’t know the Utah head coach had been on trial, let alone aquitted.
@BugManDan: You’d think I’d remember the kid’s name after as many posts as I’ve written about the case. Losing the Holy War probably didn’t win him any fans but I suspect Utah fans are generally happy with Whittingham.
He’s not? News to me. Did they release a photo?
Anyway, the rest of the post still holds. A pattern of escalating violence in multiple jurisdictions is easy to wave away as somehow not serious. Mental health funding is important and necessary, but not easy to order anyone to undergo treatment against their will. (Assuming he has mental health issues.) Something is badly wrong here, and we’re not serious about confronting it.
@Not the IT Dept.:
The photo of Brooks has been widely broadcast since yesterday. Here’s one:
He was an amateur rapper under the name MathBoi Fly.
@Not the IT Dept.:…Did they release a photo?
I saw a photo yesterday.
I give up. Just Google the guy’s name. There are photos of him all over.
The route was blocked off. He ran through the barricades. From the Al Jazeera article I linked to yesterday:
@Not the IT Dept.:..He’s white, isn’t he?
Do you get all your exercise jumping to conclusions?
The listing of this man’s past criminal activities omit the magic word that lands people in jail without bail or with exorbitant bail: drugs.
Now that we’ve established that it’s not because he’s white, let me venture a guess:
His crimes have been against women. Not a problem, or at least not something cops want to get involved in.
There’s been a pattern for a long time of domestic violence as a precursor to mass violence. In a rational society, we would pay attention to this.
According to several sources, Brooks has had convictions for drugs and firearms possession, strangulation, and battery.
He was out on bail for having tried to run over the mother of his child.
His record goes back to 1999.
Bing, bing, bing, we have the winning answer. With second place going to @Kathy:.
@Cheryl Rofer: I tried to upvote this but something won’t let me. Instead I’ll repeat this:
That makes more sense. Usually, they block the streets here with actual police cars not just the yellow barriers.
My bad. His recent criminal activities don’t seem to have involved drugs.
We really do not know, from public information, what has caused this guy to be handled as he has been.
What I see from posts above is people interpreting this stuff through the lens of their own preconceptions.
Fyi folks, this hit a bit too close to home for one of our resident commenters, Andy. This is his comment from Monday’s Open Forum: “My wife’s cousin has three little kids that were at the parade with their grandparents. They were right next to the band when the vehicle hit. Fortunately they were not injured but obviously are traumatized.”
This post might be hitting Andy a bit hard at the moment, and I forgot to note yesterday that I am also so relieved that his wife’s cousins and their grandparents were NOT injured.
A lot of things should be wake-up calls in this country, this incident, the multitude of mass shooting events over the past several years, the 01/06/21 Capitol building incident, and yet they are not.
That this incident was not a terrorist event does not make it any less tragic or frightening, and mentally impaired or not, this petty, and vile, but extremely dangerous man will almost 100% be spending a huge chunk of his future behind bars. Amen to that.
It’s far from uncommon to encounter people with long criminal records and multiple convictions who’ve been treated by the criminal justice system in a way that appears to be lenient, if that’s what you’re asking. I don’t know why this particular person was released on $1000 after running over the mother of his child. That sounds like attempted murder to me–premeditated, since he followed her.
Back in 2007, the newly-elected Milwaukee D.A., John Chisholm, said that high bail penalizes the poor. He added that he “guaranteed” someone would be killed by someone released on low/no bail. He said that that certainty didn’t negate the policy.
And he’s right.
The purpose of bail is to ensure that someone returns to face trial — not to keep the community safe. If the defendant is a danger to others, then the prosecutors should make that case while asking to deny bail, or to set conditions on the defendant’s release.
I know. The Milwaukee D.A.’s office is launching an internal probe to determine why Brooks, who was already out on bail for another charge, and had jumped bail in Nevada, was cut loose.
I don’t think that’s true. I’ll grant that the dead are no more or less dead, and the injured are no more or less injured, but random loon is a lot less frightening than someone targeting soft targets specifically as part of a plan.
It’s tragic, it really sucks for those involved, but it’s also risk that is just factored in to being in a large society — it’s almost just an accident (systems failed that would have prevented this, but no plan).
Two months after 9/11, a plane fell out of the sky in Queens, NY, killing all on board. There was a palpable sigh of relief when it was discovered to just be a perfectly normal rare accident/negligence/whatever rather than a terrorist attack.
Also, per James’ update:
This, right here, is the difference between deliberate evil and incidental evil.
I expect that the driver here will not get bail again, will be tried, imprisoned for a very long time and the system will haltingly sputter towards an outcome that leaves the vast majority of us safe.
I have no expectation for Andy Ngo or Marjorie Taylor Green. They cause as much harm, and will face no consequences.
While I have not met him personally, I’ve heard very good things about Milwaukee County DA John Chisholm. He was one of the first in the current round of “progressive” prosecutors. And due to that, he’s had a target on his back for quite a while (from the Sherriff’s Office, the Milwaukee PD, and the police union). Up to this point Milwaukee has been blue enough that it hasn’t mattered.
This is the type of high-profile case involving bail that can derail an entire agenda.
Depending on how the bail just was recorded and reported, it may not have shown up on Brook’s Interstate Computerized Criminal History Report (the “rap sheet”), assuming they pulled one for him ahead of arraignment. Again, the state of criminal legal data, and what gets shared between States, is far more limited than a lot of people would expect.
That isn’t to defend the bail decision. Just to provide some additional context.
Good to point this out, but all this means is that people are jumping to the wrong conclusions about which specific portion of the criminal justice process failed society. However, their broader assumption that the criminal justice process did indeed fail society is still every bit as valid.
Coming on the heels of regular headlines about certain criminals getting inappropriately lenient sentences (most especially for crimes against women, google “Christopher Belter” for a very recent example), it is certainly not unreasonable for the public to assume that this is yet another example of someone who had no business walking (and in this case driving) around in public to begin with instead of being subject to some form of attention.
One need only look at our own city of Washington D.C. to see this systematic failure in action time and time again. The headline this morning was D.C.’s 200th homicide this year, a milestone not hit this early since 2004. How many of the perpetrator’s of these mostly heinous acts already had a criminal history “as long as my arm” and shouldn’t have been out on the streets to begin with? More than a few, I suspect.
But this leads us inevitably to the great incarceration hypocrisy. With one side of our public face we clamor for prison reform (fewer prisons, fewer prisoners, fix racial disparities, get rid of private prisons, release non-violent drug offenders, lower bail, etc.) but the other side of the public face reacts with outrage when many, like this piece of filth, slip through the cracks. I am not saying that the Venn diagram on this is a circle, but there are a lot of people espousing both sentiments out there.
Yes, we should incarcerate far fewer non-violent drug offenders, but the fact of the matter is that 4 out of 5 prisoners right now are not in prison for any sort of drug offense at all. Get rid of them and we still lock up far more of our population per capita than any other “first world” nation. Private prisons? I don’t like the concept either, but we are only talking about 9% of prisoners here. Private prisoners are a symptom of the disease, not the disease itself. I am certainly in favor in continuing to remove racial disparities in sentencing, but we are also not wise to release people like Darrell Brooks just because the local jail has hit their African-American quota for the month either. Even if we waved a magic wand and eradicated all racism within the criminal justice process, from deputy to dungeon, we would still be locking up a disproportionate number of African-Americans every year. In other words, this is not an ill that can be cured solely with prison reform or even criminal justice reform.
I noted in the Monday forum thread that I have a personal connection to this tragedy – My wife’s cousin has three little kids that were at the parade with their grandparents. They were right next to the band when the vehicle hit about 10 feet away from them. Fortunately, they were not injured but are obviously traumatized. I found out yesterday the daughter of one of their friends is one of the kids that’s hospitalized.
This was exactly my thought as well. Jumping to conclusions based on skin color or gender seems to be a popular mode of “analysis” these days, but it is an intellectually and morally bankrupt mode.
And on the question of bail – the amount doesn’t make a difference IMO. If he’d been let out on a $10k or $20k bond I don’t see how that would have changed anything. The real question is whether he should have been granted bond at all or whether it should have been set so high that he couldn’t afford it, which is basically the same thing as it would have kept him locked up.
So while the $1000 bond arrangement looks bad at first glance, I’m not sure it matters and I’m not willing to Monday-morning quarterback until I have more information.
And I also have to wonder about the relevance of his criminal history. It’s not clear to me that his history of domestic abuse does anything to explain why he would do this. The early reports that he was being chased appear now to be in doubt. I think we (or at least I) need more information before making even speculative guesses at motivations.
But at this point what does seem relatively certain is that he is the guy who did this and it’s good that he’s in custody and will stand trial for this terrible crime.
The DC area is unlike most of America in this regard – physical security is at a higher level in the capital region than most anywhere else for obvious reasons.
The Waukesha Police chief said today that they were not chasing Brooks. They caught up with him after the parade when he went to an acquaintance’s house and asked that person to call him a Uber. It’s on the doorbell camera video.
I forgot to respond that this is 100% correct. Thank you for pointing that out as many folks do not understand that.
I understand that–I used to consult to the Mass. Criminal Justice Training Council–but Brooks had jumped bail for his second sex offense in Nevada in 2016, so he could be considered a flight risk. But, as you say, whatever the ADA got for paperwork in Milwaukee might have been incomplete.
A lot of detail is missing, but a good guess is the perp, in the process of accumulating a long rap sheet, also acquired a long record of not skipping bail.
The cite of trying to run over a LE officer merely says the officer’s comment was that he had been afraid he might be run over, not a strong assertion the perp had been trying to run him over. That he was still able to enter the car and shut it off and not report of a serious fight from the perp to prevent that indicates a half-assed attempt to flee the scene.
And there’s the rub. My interwebs thingie is telling me that the Eighth Amendment in the Bill of Rights explicitly prohibits that–not that Constitutional objections have always (or even ever) stopped such practice in the past. Thus the suggestion that prosecutors should have argued that he wasn’t entitled to bail at all. Which argument failed to materialize. I will join with those whose position is that they can’t say because they don’t know (h/t Bullwinkle J. Moose), but note that setting bail so high that he couldn’t post it should be a non-starter rather than a question for discussion.
A sixth person has died, this one a child.
At the arraignment today, a judge set Brooks’ bail at 5 million dollars.
I have no idea why, given his record, he would even be allowed bail under these circumstances. I’ll have to look into the State statutes.
Reason has a pretty good summation of the situation (and a plea not to rush to blaming what happened on Bail reform):
Also, re: the bail jumping, he has been arraigned twice in Wisconsin and neither time the Nevada bail jumping has surfaced. It could be that it’s in the rap sheet but hard to identify (one of the issues with rap sheets is they can be notoriously hard to read–even for attornies).
I suspect the law allows the charged to ask for bail. That said, why wasn’t the request simply denied, rather than $5M?
@Sleeping Dog: In my state, a person charged with a capital crime is assumed automatically to be a flight risk. Maybe one of the progressive efforts in Wisconsin’s storied past was to dispense with such presumptions. Only a guess.
Judges are, in general, very conservative (small “c”) folks. So they often differ to prosecutor’s recommendations in these cases because if something bad happens then they can blame the prosecutor (this was explained to me by multiple judges).
There is a lot in what you wrote. In general you are correct, that we are rapidly moving past the point where we can cut mass incarceration by focusing on drug-only crimes. John Pfaff, amoung others, has called out that at some point we need to seriously look at what we consider “violent” crime and how we punish it. I think we also need to consider how prison pipelines and issue with reentry encourage re-offense.
This is sadly most likely the case, and gets to a broader issue about the impacts of systemic racism and the multigenerational effort/investment needed to help enable Black and other BIPOC communities to correct this issue.