Those We Hate Should Be Protected Too
Jan. 4, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — Former Marksville Police Department officer and City Marshall Derrick Stafford spent New Year’s Day in a jail cell, unable to post his $1 million bond and unable to convince District Court Judge William Bennett his bond should be reduced during a hearing held in early December of 2015. Stafford’s family is incensed. Those who believe in the fundamental fairness of the legal system should be angry too.
Despite multiple witnesses testifying to Derrick Stafford’s character and that he wasn’t a flight risk, 12th Judicial District Court Judge William Bennett on Thursday denied his request to reduce his $1 million bond in the fatal shooting of Jeremy Mardis and the wounding of the 6 year old boy’s father.
Stafford’s former partner, Norris Greenhouse Jr., is out after his family put up a property bond. It’s nice to be able to own enough real property to post the bond. It’s also nice that Greenhouse Jr.’s father, Norris Greenhouse Sr., is an Assistant District Attorney with Avoyelles Parish, but I’m sure that had nothing to do with the disparate treatment. Judge Bennett, in deciding to hold Stafford’s bond at $1 million, cited numerous factors in his dismissal of the bond reduction.
In refusing to reduce the bond, Bennett pointed to several factors. He said the offense of which [Stafford] is accused is a serious crime of violence. He cited the grand jury indictments as proof there’s enough evidence to proceed to trial.
Bennett also included a 2011 indictment on rape charges in Rapides Parish in his decision against Stafford. The charges were later dismissed without prejudice.
Bennett also cited concerns for the disgraced Marksville police officer and City Marshall’s safety as Stafford and Greenhouse, Jr. have both received threats since being formally indicted. It is unclear what the nature of those threats were, or how the court learned of those threads. It is unclear how threats to Stafford’s safety even fit as a factor for determining bail under Louisiana’s Code of Criminal Procedure.
Let’s take a look at Article 334 of Louisiana’s Code of Criminal Procedure, which outlines factors for determining the amount of bail to see if Judge Bennett’s rationale holds up.
The amount of bail shall be such that, in the judgment of the court, commissioner, or magistrate, it will insure the presence of the defendant, as required, and the safety of any other person and the community, having regard to:
(1) The seriousness of the offense charged, including but not limited to whether the offense is a crime of violence or involves a controlled dangerous substance.
(2) The weight of the evidence against the defendant.
(3) The previous criminal record of the defendant.
(4) The ability of the defendant to give bail.
(5) The nature and seriousness of the danger to any other person or the community that would be posed by the defendant’s release.
(6) The defendant’s voluntary participation in a pretrial drug testing program.
(7) The absence or presence of any controlled dangerous substance in the defendant’s blood at the time of arrest.
(8) Whether the defendant is currently out on bond on a previous felony arrest for which he is awaiting institution of prosecution, arraignment, trial, or sentencing.
(9) Any other circumstances affecting the probability of defendant’s appearance.
(10) The type or form of bail.
Yes, Derrick Stafford is charged with the murder of a six-year-old autistic boy. That’s a serious offense, but in light of the circumstances it doesn’t merit denying a bond reduction. If Judge Bennett thinks the grand jury’s indictment is the “weight of the evidence against the defendant,” and enough to deny a bond reduction, then the judge is completely unaware or consciously ignorant of the farce that is the grand jury system. At best, it shows only probable cause. It certainly doesn’t merit keeping the bond at $1 million.
Stafford has charges of excessive force against him during his time as a law enforcement officer, and accusations of rape, but none of those charges resulted in a criminal conviction. He could make a property bond if the amount was reduced to $100,000 or $150,000, but that wasn’t good enough for Judge Bennett. Friends and family testified Stafford wouldn’t be a danger to the community, and for the life of me I can’t find other people threatening a defendant as a factor determining bond under CCRP Article 334.
Even more head scratching than the factors used to justify a $1 million dollar bond for Derrick Stafford is Judge Bennett’s decision to deny Derrick Stafford or Norris Greenhouse Jr. the ability to meet with attorneys Jonathan Goins and George Higgins III at their respective offices.
But Bennett, in stating why he was denying the motion, said Stafford — even if he could post bond — would not be allowed to travel out of state to confer with Goins. In fact, he said he hasn’t allowed Marksville resident Greenhouse Jr. to visit his attorney, George Higgins III, at his Pineville office.
Bennett didn’t give a rationale for this decision, nor were alternate secure venues for attorney-client communication even suggested. Judge Bennett just decided Derrick Stafford and Norris Greenhouse Jr. couldn’t meet with their lawyers at their lawyers’ offices, because . . . reasons.
Nothing good will come of Judge Bennett’s decision to castigate Derrick Stafford and Norris Greenhouse, Jr. The denial of Stafford’s bond reduction and the impediments to the counsel of their choosing will only serve as fodder for Brittany Stafford’s claims this is now a matter of race.
“If (Stafford) was white, if his skin color was Caucasian, he would not have been charged,” she said. If Chris Few and his son would have been black, there would have been none of this.”
Derrick Stafford and Norris Greenhouse, Jr. are by every account despicable people. They lied repeatedly about every circumstance that led to the death of Jeremy Mardis and severe wounding of Chris Few. There is a history of excessive force complaints and misconduct charges while the two wore badges as either City Marshalls or Police Officers. Derrick Stafford personally involved himself in a Hatfield and McCoy style feud between Marksville Mayor John Lemoine and City Judge Angelo Piazza III.
Absolutely none of that serves as justification to deny either man due process or equal treatment under the law. Even those we personally loathe can and should receive every right afforded them, and we should make it a point to loudly demand that the state prove their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. It’s either that or we scrap the notions of “equal treatment under the law” and “fundamental fairness” in the legal system completely. Even the defendants we hate are entitled to their constitutional rights.