George Is Not Guilty!
Last month, Sheriff Tom Dart announced that his office would be reviewing the release decisions being made by Cook County’s Bond Court judges. Since then, Dart has denied release to many people who were assigned electronic monitoring and had their bond posted. The county is currently paying to lock up people at Cook County Jail who have met their conditions of release only because Sheriff Dart disagrees with the court’s decision. Dart is choosing to play judge and jury–a disturbing overstep of his powers as sheriff that brings dire consequences for the people wrongfully locked up as a result of his decisions.
Felony cases in Cook County regularly take more than a year to resolve, and some people wait 3 or more years for their trial. Dart’s unaccountable decisions could lead to someone remaining incarcerated for that entire time even though the court cleared them for release. Dart’s fearmongering about people accused of possessing guns being released pretrial is completely unsubstantiated. As county president Toni Preckwinkle pointed out in a letter to Dart, “Of the 195 defendants [accused of possessing guns] released into the community, only 21 rebooked for any offense, and only 5, 2.5% for a felony gun charge.” Additionally, CCBF has posted bond for 32 people with charges involving guns, and 97% of them have returned to all their court dates and not been re-arrested. None were re-arrested on new charges involving weapons.
In March 2017, the Chicago Community Bond Fund posted bond for George, a 19 year old Black man from Chicago’s West side who was accused of having a gun. George spent four months in Cook County Jail and then spent three months on electronic monitoring, all for a crime he was ultimately found not guilty of by a jury.
Today, there are many people being needlessly held at Cook County for crimes they haven’t been convicted of, only because the sheriff disagrees with a court order. Today, we are sharing George’s story again as a reminder of the needless harms caused by pretrial incarceration and electronic monitoring.
After four months of incarceration and another four months on house arrest, a jury found George “not guilty” on July 26th in his aggravated unlawful use of a weapon case. CCBF is thrilled that George, a 19-year-old father of an infant daughter, can now return to his family and life. At the same time, we are outraged that George was forced to endure eight months of devastating pretrial punishment for charges that he was ultimately exonerated of.
Before he was arrested in November 2016, George was a senior in high school, working a regular job, and had just found out that he was going to be a dad. He was accused by police of having a gun in his possession and locked up in Cook County Jail with a bond of $50,000 dollars, even though he had no background. Unable to afford the $5,000 required for his release, George was incarcerated for four months under terrible conditions. During his pretrial incarceration, he considered taking a plea deal just to escape the situation. George says he wants everyone to know that jail is hell.
On March 28, 2017, CCBF posted $5,000 to secure George’s freedom. After a pretrial services officer told his judge that George hadn’t contacted the office quickly enough after his release, George was put on electronic monitoring. Electronic monitoring (a form of house arrest) made it impossible for him to go to school, work a job, or financially support his daughter and girlfriend. Frustrated by restrictions on his movement and worn down by the criminal legal system, George—again—almost took a plea deal. Nevertheless, when he was finally went to trial, George prevailed!
Now that his case is over, George plans to spend time with his daughter, stepson, girlfriend, mother, and siblings. Still, he lost eight months of his life to pretrial incarceration and house arrest—time that he can never get back. These conditions amounted to punishment meted out before trial, and highlight the problems of pretrial “services” or incarceration based on certain allegations such as gun possession. George’s case exposes the brutality of a system that punishes people before they have faced trial and reminds us that when the system doesn’t succeed in forcing a plea, some people will be found to be innocent of the charges against them. It further highlights how the criminalization of guns is not and will never be a real solution for addressing social harms, and instead only gives prosecutors and police more ammunition for imposing punishment—even before individuals have been convicted.
George wants people reading his story to understand that this could happen to anyone in the wrong place at the wrong time.
This is a photo of George and one of his lawyers from the Cook County Public Defender’s Office, who won the jury trial.