Ending wealth-based detention in Dallas, Texas
In January 2018, Civil Rights Corps sued Dallas County, challenging their policy of detaining impoverished individuals charged with misdemeanors and felonies for days and weeks without ever seeing a judge. Our clients include a transgender woman who is experiencing homelessness and lives in a tent outside of Dallas. She was arrested for allegedly shoplifting. Because she could not afford a $500 money bail, and because she is transgender, she was kept in solitary confinement for five days. Another plaintiff is a 30-year-old graduate of Amherst college who worked on Wall Street, but has struggled with drug addiction. He was being kept in jail on a $500 money bail he could not afford. Another plaintiff was jailed because she could not afford $15,000 after being arrested for alleged assault with a deadly weapon. She was released because the District Attorney decided not to file charges, after having already spent six days in a cage. The six named plaintiffs represent a class of tens of thousands of people who are arrested every year in Dallas County and kept in jail because they are too poor to purchase their freedom. Along with partners at the ACLU, the ACLU of Texas, and the Texas Fair Defense Project, we are challenging Dallas County's rampant and flagrant violation of our clients' equal protection and due process rights.
Not only is the system fundamentally unfair, but it operates in secret. We are also representing Faith in Texas and the Texas Organizing Project Education Fund, two groups of activists and organizers, who were denied their First Amendment right to attend and observe bail hearings, and are challenging the County's policy of denying the public access to bail hearings.
These six individuals represent a class of tens of thousands of people every year who are kept in Dallas County jail cells because they cannot afford to purchase their freedom. On a typical night, 2,300 human beings are confined in jail cells there who cannot afford to buy their release.
Shannon Daves was arrested and accused of misdemeanor theft. She was informed that, because of the Dallas County bail schedule, she would be released immediately, but only if she paid a money bail amount of $500--an amount set without consideration of her homelessness or lack of employment. Because she is transgender, Ms. Daves was kept in solitary confinement for 24 hours a day, segregated from the rest of the jail population. You can read Ms. Daves' declaration here.
Destinee Tovar, who is 19-years-old, was arrested and accused of felony theft. Although she is unemployed and without stable housing, her money bail was set at $1,500--an amount that she could not afford. You can read Ms. Tovar's declaration here.
Shakena Walston is a grandmother who was hoping to begin community college. Instead, she nearly missed the course enrollment period because she was in jail, unable to pay a $15,000 bail. After the filing of our lawsuit, her criminal charges were dropped entirely. You can read Ms. Walston's declaration here.
James Thompson previously worked as an accountant, but lost nearly everything due to drug addiction. He is the sole caregiver for his parents who are elderly and disabled. The County demanded $135,000 for his release. He is charged only with possession of a controlled substance and theft.- You can read Mr. Thompson's declaration here.
Patroba Michieka attended Amherst College and worked on Wall Street until personal struggles got in the way. He was kept in the Dallas County Jail because he could not afford a $500 money bond. You can read Mr. Michieka's declaration here.
Eeriyah Banks is the sole caregiver for her mother, who survives on disability. Ms. Banks has a serious medical condition, and the jail was denying her the medication she needs to survive. Her bail amounts for two charges total $50,000. You can read Ms. Banks' declaration here.
We have also filed a public access claim, on behalf of the following two community organizations, Texas Organizing Project (TOP) and Faith in Texas (FIT), demanding that they be able to observe the hearings that set bail in their community. They requested access to these hearings, which are by law open to the public, so that they could "provide information to the families of the people in the hearings who are in urgent need of real-time information about what’s happening to their loved one who has just been arrested." You can read their moving letter here. They explained to the Sheriff,
“Matthew 25:36 says, ‘I was in prison and you visited me.’ As faith and community leaders, we are called to be physically present with people in their bail hearings. . . [Access to the hearings] is critical to us living out this calling.”
Yet, TOP and FIT's requests, were denied due to "logistics and security concerns." You can read the Sheriff's response here. The fact that these hearings are shrouded in secrecy promotes the perception among members of Faith in Texas, Texas Organizing Project, and the general public, that Dallas’s money bail scheme is inherently unfair
Texas Organizing Project promotes social and economic equality for low to moderate income Texans through community and electoral organizing. TOP provides hard working Texans the opportunity to implement real change by organizing their own neighborhoods, investing their time and energy in causes relevant to their respective communities, and collectively taking ownership over TOP’s agenda, strategy and direction..
You can read more about their work here.
Faith in Texas is a multi-racial faith movement for social justice that trains teams of leaders in local churches, mosques, and synagogues that serve low- and moderate-income people. These Justice Teams identify systemic problems that affect their communities and move entire congregations to action through policy campaigns like the Live Free campaign, which has as its chief goal ending mass incarceration in the state of Texas.
You can read more about their work here.
FEDERAL LAWSUIT CLAIMS DALLAS COUNTY BAIL SYSTEM ILLEGALLY LEAVES THE POOR LANGUISHING IN JAIL -- Dallas Observer
January 23, 2018
In a Jan. 9 article, the Dallas Observer spoke with Dallas County officials from pretrial services about the changes being made to help reduce the high number of poor people serving time in jail without being convicted of a crime. The changes were a response to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, which reported that more than 70 percent of Dallas County Jail inmates could not afford to pay bail."
DALLAS COUNTY SUED AFTER JAILING TRANS WOMAN IN SOLITARY FOR DAYS OVER MISDEMEANOR ARREST -- Huff Post
January 24, 2018
"Civil rights groups have filed a suit against Dallas County, Texas, over allegations that officials are running an unconstitutional judicial system that forces defendants, including a transgender woman who has struggled with homelessness and unemployment, to spend days or weeks behind bars before trial simply because they can’t afford to pay bail."
DALLAS COUNTY'S BAIL SYSTEM HIT WITH LAWSUIT MIRRORING HARRIS COUNTY CASE -- Houston Chronicle
January 22, 2018
"Activists filed a lawsuit accusing Dallas County of unconstitutionally detaining poor people prior to trial just because they can't afford bail, mirroring the case that overhauled the Harris County bail system last year.
"The ACLU of Texas, Texas Fair Defense Project and Civil Rights Corps--the latter two groups who led the landmark bail case in Harris County--filed the suit late Sunday, representing six people sitting in jail for inability to pay bail ranging from $500 to $50,000."