Hundreds of rioters arrested by the Minneapolis police during the George Floyd protests were immediately back on the streets when authorities refused to press charges and released them without bail.
Law enforcement advocates said the city’s get-out-of-jail-free cards for violence, vandalism and looting sets a terrible precedent.
“This is dangerous because it sends a message that at the end of the day there are no consequences,” said Jeff Clayton, executive director of the American Bail Coalition, a trade association of bail insurance companies. “These are not people trespassing, these are burglaries and property destruction.”
Between May 26 and June 2 — the first few days and nights of civil unrest in the wake of Mr. Floyd’s death — 170 people were arrested in Hennepin County, where Minneapolis is located.
The charges included burglary, assault, rioting and weapons charges, according to a study by the American Bail Coalition.
A total of 167 of those arrested, 98.2%, were released within hours. Only 10 of those individuals, roughly 17%, were required to post bail for release, according to the study.
Prosecutors only filed charges for 49 or 29% of those arrested.
“The data shows prosecutors didn’t take this seriously,” Mr. Clayton said. “It seems inconsistent because if there were no riots these people would not have gotten away with it whether in Hennepin County or across the country.”
Hennepin County Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Lacey Severins said the decisions on charges and bail recommendations were made individually in each case based on state guidelines.
“Bail determinations relate to the crime charged and the background information of the individual,” she said. “The final bail was set by the court after arguments from the state and the defense.”
A spokesperson for the Hennepin County District Court did not respond to a request to comment.
Mr. Clayton said some of the bail decisions defied logic.
In one arrest, Jaleel Stallings was charged with two counts of attempted second-degree murder, two counts of first-degree assault and one count of second-degree assault, along with three other charges for firing multiple shots at police officers.
The attorney’s office sought bail of $500,000 but Mr. Stallings was released from custody five days later after only posting $75,000 bail. It is not clear who bailed him out from the Hennepin County Sheriff’s records.
“That’s small potatoes for someone who took shots at police officers,” Mr. Clayton said.
Ms. Severins said her office followed the bail guidelines in the case of Mr. Stalling to ensure “a fair, neutral and balanced approach.”
Kellen Funk, a Columbia Law School professor who has written about bail reform, said bail decisions are a byproduct of multiple factors, including local rules, the judge’s views and the case itself.
“Bail is always a creature of local regulation,” he said. “We don’t have an American bail system, we have 5,000 different bail systems that can vary enormously from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.”
The lack of bail in the Minneapolis cases was consistent with similar approaches across the country but cautioned that every bail decision is unique, he said.
Mr. Funk noted that bail is meant as a means to get someone to show up in court, not as a form of punishment because at that stage an individual has not been convicted of a crime.
“Bail and pretrial detention are not supposed to be punitive,” he said. “We still have untried, unconvicted defendants.”