Arrested felons released on lenient bonds
By Michael Perlstein Staff writer
The New Orleans criminal justice system may have been ground to a virtual halt by Hurricane Katrina, but one controversial pre-storm practice is continuing unabated: the willingness of Criminal Court Judge Charles Elloie to bend over backwards to release jailed suspects on lenient bail.
In four recent gun and narcotics arrests — two involving the same felon accused of wielding an assault rifle — Elloie, by his own admission, issued either free or affordable bail over the telephone without determining the facts of the arrest. Elloie said he considered only the suspect’s rap sheet and new charges.
In one case, Elloie acknowledged he wouldn’t even have issued bail had he known the facts of the arrest: Brian Expose was caught Tuesday with six ounces of cocaine, two assault rifles — one with a bayonet, one with a 60-round clip — a Tech-9 with a silencer, four pistols and $189,000 in cash, police said.
Capt. Timothy Bayard, commander of the New Orleans police narcotics squad, said Expose was arrested Tuesday when detectives served a search warrant at his Algiers home after witnessing him sell drugs to another man on the street. Bayard said detectives, who kept Expose’s home under surveillance as the warrant was being prepared, saw him furiously trying to hide the drugs, guns and money in bushes around his home.
Expose, 33, who received probation for a 1993 conviction for crack possession and served two years in prison when the probation was revoked in 1996, was booked Tuesday with being a felon with a firearm, possessing a firearm with narcotics, distribution of crack and possession with intent to distribute crack.
But within hours of the arrest, before Expose could be brought before a magistrate for a bail hearing, Elloie released him on a free recognizance bond, court records show.
“My guys were furious,” Bayard said. “We keep putting the same guys in jail over and over. These (released on recognizance bonds) are unbelievable...You have a golden opportunity to change some of the crime problems of New Orleans, but this particular judge doesn’t get it. It’s ridiculous.”
When told about the facts of the arrest in an interview Wednesday, Elloie responded, “I didn’t get any of that. All I got were the charges and his background. I didn’t know anything about the money or the multiple guns.”
Elloie said he doesn’t remember who called on Expose’s behalf, but said he was told the seized cocaine was measured in grams, not ounces. Even so, Elloie said he “wouldn’t have been involved” if he knew all of the circumstances of the arrest.
“That’s a shocking amount of money,” he said. “And if I knew an AK-47 was involved, I wouldn’t have touched it.”
However, when asked why he didn’t hold a contradictory hearing — in which prosecutors can present facts to support a high bail amount — or at least check the arrest report, Elloie defended his actions.
“Why would I have somebody sit in jail while I check on that? They overcharge a lot of times. And how many people sit in jail on charges that are never prosecuted?” Elloie asked.
The Expose case isn’t the only example of Elloie stepping in to issue lenient bail in the past two weeks: --On March 9, Travis Randolph, 22, was arrested for being a felon in possession of a firearm. Randolph, convicted of crack possession in 2002, was caught with an assault rifle, police said. The day after the arrest, a magistrate judge set bail for Randolph at $35,000, court records show. Elloie allowed $10,000 of the bail to be covered by a free recognizance bond, an ROR in court parlance, and Randolph covered the rest by purchasing a $25,000 surety bond. --On Friday, Randolph was booked a second time for possessing an assault rifle. Again bond was set at $35,000 by a magistrate. This time, Elloie allowed $5,000 to be covered by an ROR. Both times Randolph was arrested, Judge Frank Marullo, who presided over Randolph’s earlier drug conviction, lifted any probation holds that would have kept Randolph locked up. Marullo could not be reached for comment Wednesday. --On Saturday, Roderick Baker, 29, was booked for being in possession of a firearm in a bar. Police said Baker, part of a group called the “New Black Panthers” who came from out-of-state for a series of protest rallies, was caught with an assault rifle. Elloie issued an ROR within hours, court records show.
Elloie is no stranger to criticism over his bail practices. A 2005 study by the non-profit Metropolitan Crime Commission showed that Elloie was responsible for 83 percent of the cases in which a suspect was released after a bail reduction, leaving the remaining 17 percent scattered among Elloie’s 11 fellow judges. The study showed that Elloie granted 48 percent of the total ROR bonds.
The commission report only validated what was widely known by the courthouse crowd. Before Katrina, a line of bail bondsman, defense attorneys, ministers and suspects’ family members could be seen in Elloie’s court on almost a daily basis to ask for bail favors.
In the past, Rafael Goyeneche, president of the criminal justice watchdog group, has railed against Elloie, calling him “a rogue judge with a warped sense of justice.” In the post-Katrina environment, in which the flooded criminal courthouse remains closed and judges hold court sporadically in a borrowed chamber in federal court, Goyeneche said Elloie’s actions are “especially frightening.”
“It shows his complete reckless disregard for the criminal justice system and the safety of the public,” Goyeneche said. “Somehow, the most dangerous people arrested by police somehow have after-hours access to Judge Elloie. It completely demoralizes law enforcement.”
Goyeneche said the Expose release is especially galling.
“The Brian Expose case is the epitome of what street life and drug-dealing was about pre-Katrina,” he said. “Now, when police have an opportunity to get a handle on this type of activity, Elloie releases him without even finding out the circumstances. There is not a judge in the city, and probably the United States, that would release someone like Brian Expose on a free bond.”
In the past, Elloie has defended his philosophy as a liberal deterrent to what he perceives as a lock-them-up-and-throw-away-key mentality. In some instances, though, he has admitted making mistakes, such as granting free releases in domestic violence cases or modifying bail for suspects accused of violent crimes.
Regarding his most recent actions, however, Elloie was unapologetic.
“We are violating enough people’s rights by not having trial and by not have adequate representation,” Elloie said, referring to the post-Katrina difficulties of getting pre-Katrina defendants into court for trial.
“I’m not going to participate in violating people’s rights. We have enough people in jail right now,” he said. “I’m going to continue to act based on my conscience, not what the Crime Commission says.”
Michael Perlstein can be reached at email@example.com or (504) 826-3316.[