MADISON, Wis. — A court commissioner is set to decide Friday whether a Milwaukee man accused of plowing his SUV through a Christmas parade, killing six people and injuring dozens more, will stand trial for murder.
Darrell Brooks Jr. is set to appear in Waukesha County court before Commissioner Kevin Costello for a preliminary hearing. Such hearings, when a court official decides whether there’s enough evidence to hold a defendant for trial, are usually a formality but can shed light on defense and prosecution strategies.
According to the criminal complaint, Brooks drove his mother’s maroon Ford Escape into the parade in downtown Waukesha on Nov. 21. He kept going despite police officers’ demands to stop, with some officers telling investigators it appeared the driver was trying to intentionally hit people and “citizen witnesses” telling detectives the SUV never slowed down.
Some of the people he hit flew up onto the hood of the Escape; at one point Brooks had to lean out the driver’s window to steer because a person had landed on the windshield, according to the complaint.
Six people were killed and dozens more injured. District Attorney Susan Opper charged Brooks with six counts of first-degree intentional homicide a few days later. He would face life in prison if he’s convicted on even one count. Opper this week added scores of additional charges, including reckless endangerment, hit-and-run involving death, bail jumping and battery.
Any possible motives remain unknown. Court documents filed Wednesday allege Brooks beat the mother of his child minutes before driving into the parade because she refused to bail him out of jail after he was arrested for allegedly running her over with the same vehicle earlier in November.
Brooks had been arrested in neighboring Milwaukee County in that alleged earlier incident. He walked out of jail on Nov. 19, two days before the parade, after posting $1,000 bail.
Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, a Democrat, has taken intense criticism for his office recommending bail be set so low for Brooks.
Chisholm told county officials in December that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a backlog of cases in his office. An evaluation of the risk Brooks posed to the community never made into his office’s computer system and went unseen, Chisholm said, and a young, overworked assistant prosecutor recommended $1,000 bail for him so she could move on to other cases.
A group of Milwaukee County taxpayers filed a complaint with Gov. Tony Evers in December demanding he remove Chisholm from office. An attorney the Evers administration hired to review the complaint concluded Tuesday that the complaint suffers from technical legal deficiencies and isn’t valid. Evers refused to take any action against Chisholm, a fellow Democrat.
Chisholm has pushed for ending cash bail, saying it’s not fair to poor defendants. He wants a new system in which only violent offenders are jailed until trial.
Brooks’ case has pushed Republicans legislators to introduce bills that would require a $10,000 minimum bond for people who have previously committed a felony or violent misdemeanor. They would also require the Wisconsin Department of Justice to create a “bond transparency report” detailing crime and bond conditions.
Evers and Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul have said they would support stricter bail policies.
This story has been corrected to show a court commissioner, not a judge, will decide whether to bind Brooks over for trial.
Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter: twitter.com/@trichmond1