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Beyond bail; flawed forensics; clergy abuse; disciplined election outcome denier; COVID-19 in jails

Of note: First, a quick callout. In a collaboration convened by Indian Country Today, we’re reporting on economic issues in tribal communities. We want to hear perspectives —  particularly from enrolled tribal citizens, people of Native descent or others who work within Wisconsin’s American Indian nations and tribal communities. Find our survey here

Back to the news. This week we highlight our story about the debate surrounding cash bail after Darrell E. Brooks was released from jail while facing charges related to domestic violence — just days before he allegedly drove through a Christmas parade in Waukesha, killing six people and injuring dozens. Clare Amari reports on what some proposals to change Wisconsin’s system are overlooking: Under Wisconsin’s Constitution, cash bail is not designed to protect the public — only to ensure the accused’s appearance at the next court date.

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Darrell E. Brooks appears in Waukesha County Circuit Court on Jan. 14, 2022 in Waukesha, Wis. Brooks is accused of killing six people and injuring dozens more while driving an SUV through a suburban Christmas parade. A series of mix-ups led Brooks to be released from jail on Nov. 16 on an unusually low cash bail. Derek Johnson / The Waukesha Freeman

Wisconsin debates cash bail changes in wake of Waukesha parade tragedy — as some states ditch system entirely

Wisconsin Watch — January 18, 2022

Darrell E. Brooks had been out of jail for just five days when he allegedly plowed a red Ford Escape into a Christmas parade in Waukesha on Nov. 21, killing six people and injuring dozens more. A series of mix-ups led Brooks, 39, to be released from jail on Nov. 16 on an unusually low cash bail after a case in which he allegedly used the same SUV to run over a woman. The shocking incident left residents reeling and revived a debate about bail reform: How do you balance the rights of the accused while protecting the public? Somewhat lost in that conversation: Higher bail may have kept Brooks locked up during the parade, but it would not have prevented a wealthier defendant with a similar track record from leaving jail. That fact has led some states to virtually eliminate cash bail.

Read Wisconsin Watch’s series examining the cash bail system: Beyond Bail 

Emily Acker holds her 1-year-old daughter, Izabel, at their home on Eielson Air Force Base near Fairbanks, Alaska, on Jan. 13, 2022. Justin and Emily Acker were erroneously accused of abusing Izabel as a newborn. Medical experts found the injuries the baby suffered when she was 3 weeks old stemmed from her traumatic birth. Emily Mesner / Anchorage Daily News

‘We were robbed’: Alaska couple loses custody of kids after erroneous abuse diagnosis from former UW doctor

Wisconsin Watch/Anchorage Daily News — January 20, 2022 

Izabel Acker is 1 year old now, a smiling, crawling baby with a gummy smile, waving her hands to the songs in the Disney movie on TV. On a recent January afternoon, her mom, Emily Acker, strolled into the kitchen of their military base duplex to prepare a bottle, settling back into the couch to feed her. Izabel’s brother Ezekiel raced trucks across the carpet. It’s all so different from the last bleak year when Acker and her husband, Justin, stood accused of causing injuries that led to a devastating stroke when Izabel was a newborn. The couple has always denied the accusation. They say Izabel’s injuries were caused by a traumatic birth that ended in a rough emergency cesarean section — an assessment shared by two experts. And a forensic psychologist who examined Emily Acker found she posed no danger to her children.

Nate’s Mission Program Director, Peter Isely, left, walks with Nate’s Mission Deputy Director Sarah Pearson, with boxes of documents at the Capitol in Madison en route to the office of Attorney General Josh Kaul on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022. Mike De Sisti / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

‘This is criminal evidence’: Advocates deliver boxes of documents regarding clergy abuse to attorney general

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel — January, 18, 2022

An advocacy group has turned over thousands of pages of documents from the five Wisconsin Catholic dioceses it says demonstrate a systemic coverup of sexual abuse by clergy members. Nate’s Mission, an advocacy group aimed at ending clergy abuse in Wisconsin, handed the documents over to Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul on Tuesday, in a move to further the investigation launched last year into abusive clergy and the coverup of abuse by Catholic dioceses. The group is named for Nate Lindstrom, who accused multiple priests at St. Norbert Abbey in De Pere of sexually abusing him in the 1980s. He died by suicide in 2020, nearly one year after the abbey stopped sending secret payments he received for 10 years.

Previously from Wisconsin Watch: ‘I was such a little kid’: As Wisconsin Catholic clergy accused of sexual abuse grows, the trauma lingers

Rep. Timothy Ramthun, R-Campbellsport, listens to testimony. Mark Hoffman / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos disciplines GOP lawmaker who is the most vocal denier of 2020 election outcome

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel — January, 20, 2022

The Republican leader of the state Assembly on Thursday placed sanctions on one of his members who has for more than a year falsely claimed former President Trump won the 2020 election in Wisconsin and has proposed legislation to pull back Wisconsin’s electoral votes, which is impossible. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos stripped Rep. Timothy Ramthun of Campbellsport of his only staffer after Ramthun falsely accused Vos of signing a deal with attorneys for former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to authorize ballot drop boxes, according to Vos’ office. was first to report on the move.

Inmates engage in a lunch hour game of chess inside a group detention area at the Dane County Jail in July. The jail has few places to isolate inmates from each other, creating significant health risks for those incarcerated during the COVID-19 pandemic. John Hart / Wisconsin State Journal

More inmates, more illness: How an outbreak hit the Dane County Jail’s COVID-vulnerable unit

Wisconsin State Journal — January 17, 2022

When Gary Nelson was arrested in November on misdemeanor battery and disorderly conduct charges, a previous hospitalization for COVID-19 — combined with high blood pressure — got him sent to the Dane County Jail’s “COVID-vulnerable” unit for people at higher risk of serious illness. Yet the virus found him again, along with other inmates, when an outbreak struck that part of the Dane County Jail in the days before Christmas. Nelson said he was coughing up black phlegm, had abdominal pain, no sense of smell and a runny nose.The Wisconsin State Journal interviewed five inmates who had been in the protective unit about their experience with the outbreak. All detailed similar timelines for when the outbreak started and the extent of illness in the unit. All pointed to an increasingly crowded jail and changes to how inmates are tested and isolated upon intake as the likely cause.

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