November 28, 2018
Special Guest Perspective by Dan O’Donnell
“In the city in which I live,” she wrote, “I hear and see examples of chaos almost every day. Little children are victims of senseless gun violence.”
Less than two years later, Sandra Parks was one of them. She was just 13 years old and just the latest in a long line of children who have fallen victim to an all-too-familiar pattern in Milwaukee: A hardened criminal is released on signature bond, skips his court appearance, and then commits more crimes (up to and including murder).
Sandra’s killer, Isaac Barnes, had been due in court earlier the day she was gunned down, but because he had to put up no money of his own to be released from custody following a car theft arrest in early November, he never showed.
The day after his arrest, Milwaukee County Court Commissioner Julia Vosper allowed Barnes, a convicted armed robber, to post a $1,000 signature bond and walk free.
Instead of requiring him to put up any money at all to ensure that he showed up to his initial court appearance, Vosper let him sign his name on a promise that was literally worth nothing more than the paper it was printed on.
Instead of showing up to court on November 19th, he showed up in Sandra Parks’ neighborhood and opened fire at a still-unknown target but hit Sandra’s house instead.
“Mama, I’m shot,” her mother recalls her saying as she staggered from her bedroom. “Call police.”
Sandra was pronounced dead on the scene; a victim of the chaos in the streets of her city exacerbated by the willful ignorance of that city’s criminal justice system.
Everything about Barnes’ prior record indicated that he wouldn’t show up to his court date. Eight years after his armed robbery conviction, he has still never bothered to pay the fines he owed. When he was sentenced to 30 days in the House of Correction following his second drunk driving conviction, he never bothered to pay the $1,429 in fines he owed and, rather brazenly, never bothered to report to jail. That led to an additional 22-day sentence and an additional $343 in fines…which Barnes also never bothered to pay.
If Barnes refused to pay the fines he owed after every one of his criminal convictions and didn’t even show up to jail, what would make Commissioner Vosper think that he would show up in a courtroom two years later? What would make her think he would ever pay the $1,000 he would forfeit by failing to appear?
While Vosper showed stunningly poor judgement in granting signature bond, she could not have known that Barnes would kill an innocent girl the day he skipped his court appearance.
Waukesha County Court Commissioner Sara Scullen has no such excuse.
In September, Sunkeun Kim appeared before her on charges of suffocation or strangulation, false imprisonment, battery, and disorderly conduct after prosecutors charged him with viciously attacking his wife, Madeline. Despite facing two serious felonies and three misdemeanors that carried a maximum sentence of more than 13 years in prison, Scullen released Kim on $15,000 signature bond and ordered him to have no contact with his wife.
Less than a month later, he violated that order and was charged with felony bail jumping when he confronted his now-estranged wife. Kim clearly posed a very real danger to her, yet when he appeared before Scullen again—this time on felony bail jumping charges—she again freed him, this time by allowing him to post bail of just $2,500.
Six days later, Madeline filed for divorce and, less than three weeks after that, in a tragic yet entirely predictable twist, Kim killed her.
According to prosecutors, he viciously beat and then strangled her in a nearly identical attack to the one that first brought him before Commissioner Scullen; an attack that she determined did not merit cash bail.
For her, what attack would? For Commissioner Vosper, what number of non-payment of fines and failures to appear would merit even a token amount of cash bail? At what point will they stop taking the word of defendants whose word has been proven time and again to be worthless?
At what point will they, and any other court commissioner whose error in judgment puts a dangerous man back on the streets, bear some responsibility for essentially allowing a hardened criminal to sign an innocent person’s death warrant?
At some level, Sandra Parks understood the devastating nature of irresponsible choices and wrote about it in an essay for a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day competition two years ago.
“The truth is faith and hope in what people can do, has been lost in the poor choices we make,” she noted. “We shall overcome has been lost in the lie of who we have become!”
Indeed, who have we become if we ignore her words and instead trust the word of men like her killer?