‘High bonds or no bond at all’: Is it too easy to get out of jail?
By Bobby Bryant, Editor
On Friday, Feb. 19, Darlington Police Chief Kelvin Washington held a news conference at City Hall to announce the arrests of five suspects in a parking-lot fight that led to a Hartsville teen-ager’s death. But three of the five had already been released from jail, on bond, the day before Washington’s press conference. A fourth was being released from jail, on bond, at the same time Washington was speaking, jail records showed. Only one of the five suspects was still in jail by the time Washington completed his media briefing – Jalin Tremaine Mullins, the 20-year-old Darlington resident accused of firing the shot that killed Kwelik Bacote, 17. Mullins, charged with murder and attempted murder, was denied bond. He is still in jail. How were the other four suspects able to leave the county jail so quickly? Because they were charged with far less serious offenses – mostly assault by mob – and because a judge set bonds for them ranging from $30,000 to $40,000. You only have to post 10 percent of your bond to be released from jail. In this case, the other four suspects were able to come up with $3,000 or $4,000 within three days at the most. Three of the four released on bond posted their bond the same day they were arrested. This is how the criminal-justice system works. You are charged with a crime, booked at the local jail, and – unless you have a serious criminal record, unless the charge is extremely serious, or unless you’re considered likely to flee – you are granted a bond that should be reasonable, considering all the circumstances. You’ve only been accused, not convicted. Still, this seems like a good time to ask, amid a new round of gun violence that spurred a Courthouse prayer rally recently: Is it too easy to get out of jail in Darlington County? Darlington Mayor Curtis Boyd asked that question May 21 as Washington and Darlington County Sheriff James Hudson held a news conference to talk about the latest shootings in the area. “Officers do a wonderful job,” Boyd said. “They go out, they make the arrests. … Then they go to the judges (setting bonds at the Darlington County jail). Is there a way that bonds can be set higher (or) no bond is set?” “Is there a way you can work with the judges?” Boyd asked. “Absolutely,” Washington replied. “ … We have met with our local judges who have been working really, really well with us as it relates to the amounts of the bonds, and they’ve been setting higher bonds.” “I spoke with one of our judges the other day,” Washington continued. “One of the things that he’s realized – and I’ve realized it as well – several years ago, you could set a $100,000 bond on someone, and that person would probably sit in jail two or three years before they got out. “These kids (now) are getting out the next day on a $100,000 bond,” the chief said. “There are certain things they have to have in order for them to deny bond,” he said of judges and magistrates. “But even now, our judges are now beginning to start looking at even denying bond, especially in these gun cases, in these shooting cases where these young people are just – they have no regard for human life.” “When you go into a community,” Washington said, “when you see someone that you don’t like, and you pull out an AR-15 and you start shooting, and you don’t care about anybody around in that area where you are – you don’t deserve a bond. “Because you’ve already showed that you can’t function in society, so you don’t need a bond. You don’t deserve a bond. And I think our judges – I can’t speak for the magistrates – but I think our judges are now taking that position as well. “If folks are going to participate in those kinds of criminal activities, then they either should have high bonds or no bond at all.” Sheriff Hudson then picked up the issue: “Magistrates are doing the same thing,” he said. “They’re actually denying bond, and if they give bonds, it’s (with) an ankle monitor and house arrest.” “They understand the severity of what’s going on,” Hudson said. “They’re trying to make sure they are part of keeping the community safe.” As of midweek last week, a review of the Darlington County jail’s online records showed that, of 184 inmates listed as being in jail, about 32 inmates – or about 17 percent — had been denied bond. Bond had not yet been set for about nine other inmates; in most cases, there was a notation saying that bond in those cases must be set in general sessions court.