Officials at odds about bail for those charged with crimes

Is bail too high, or too accessible for violent criminals?
Judge Alison Hatheway
Posted at 7:21 PM, Nov 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-11 20:00:11-05

CINCINNATI — On Wednesday, Hamilton County prosecutor Joe Deters criticized a judge over her handling of a case involving an ex-convict accused of shooting two people while out on bond.

"Ultimately, one person is responsible for setting that bond and that's the judge," Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters said. "They should own it, ok."

Deters' frustration is clear on Facebook, where every week his office calls out judges over bonds given to people with gun charges and violent pasts.

However, few rile up prosecutors like the case against Donique Philpot.

Court records show past convictions for cocaine trafficking and domestic violence, which make it illegal for him to carry a gun.

Last November, police claimed they found Philpot in a car with a loaded Highpoint 9mm handgun under the driver's seat, according to court documents.

A grand jury indicted him on three gun charges; bail disruptors from the Bail Project got Philpot out of jail for $1,500.

Ten days later, Cincinnati Police accused him of punching a woman, a misdemeanor assault, according to court records.

The Bail Project said, despite this, Philpot qualified for their services.

"We bailed him out on the firearm (charge), which a lot of men, not just black men, brown men, poor men carry those things for safety," Shameka Parrish-Wright, operations manager for the Bail Project said. "But that isn't, if it's not being used at that time that's not considered violent."

She also said Philpot had a verified address and support system that helped him make court appearances. For Parrish-Wright, their work with clients in jail pre-trial is personal. At age 18, she pulled a weapon on her then-boyfriend in self-defense.

She spent 38 days in Hamilton County's jail on a $10,000 bond she could not afford.

"Public safety is our concern too," she said. "The crime rate isn't going up because people are getting out of jail pre-trial. There's other factors that lead to that."

The Bail Project claims 94% of clients show up for court. Of their 123 clients in Cincinnati, 49% had cases dismissed, the group said.

They only take referrals, mostly from public defenders, and vet each person they help through interviews to verify each has the support needed to obey bond conditions.

"We don't want any of our clients to come out and re-offend or anything like that but we're not above the law and we're not coming in before the bail settings happen," Parrish-Wright said. "A judge has ample, has all the information even more than we would ever have access to and if they've made that decision and we're coming in at this juncture we have to deal with the person that's in front of us."

Less than one month after Judge Alison Hatheway took the bench in March, she signed a warrant for Philpot's arrest on bond violations, court records show.

Probation officers claimed Philpot let batteries on his electronic monitoring device (EMU) die almost daily, according to records.

However, court documents show that no one took Philpot into custody during the next five court hearings. In July, Cincinnati Police claimed Philpot shot two people in Over-the-Rhine.

An indictment followed along with a way out. Judge Hatheway ordered a $15,000 bond with "money previously posted" to be credited toward that bond, according to court records.

The judge also ordered Philpot's EMU be set to open hours. Judge Hatheway did not return a call and message for comment, though, her clerk said the judge is "unable to comment on specific cases."

"We have cases where people won't show up three dozen times," Deters said. "Nothing happens to them. They violate EMU. Nothing happens to them."

Bill Gallagher, a criminal defense attorney who was part of Cincinnati's bail reform working committee, said no one wants that to happen, but that high bail isn't the answer either.

"It's been made very clear from our Ohio Supreme Court that detention on high bail is basically a ransom and is unconstitutional," he said. "Judges are compelled to follow the law."

Gallagher said prosecutors have the option to appeal all bond decisions or file for "no bond," which is why he believes Deters' complaints are political.

"Someone is going to file a complaint against me for telling the truth and the truth is this: we have judges in this county, not all of them, but some judges in this county who are releasing violent criminals on gun charges and these people with these gun charges that they're releasing are killing people," Deters said.