Bureaucracy, not malice, forced activists to wait hours Friday as they attempted to bail 16 people out of Dallas County Jail, sheriff's office officials said Monday.
Organizers with Faith in Texas and the Community Bail Fund of North Texas showed up to Lew Sterrett around 10 a.m. Friday with cashier’s checks to spring the low-income prisoners, same as they've done several times previously this month. This time, however, the staff working the cashier's window at the jail refused to take the checks.
"We were told, ‘We’re not going to accept these checks,’ without clarification,” Brittany White, Live Free organizer for Faith in Texas, said. “She said, ‘I’m not talking to you anymore, please step away.’”
Sheriff's Deputy Raul Reyna, the spokesman for Dallas County Sheriff Marian Brown, told the Observer Monday that a supervisor has to sign off on any cashier's checks used to pay bail. The clerks working the counter, he said, should have found a supervisor despite there not being one on duty when the activists showed up.
"There was not a supervisor on duty at the time the group arrived to approve the cashier’s check. The clerk should have called someone to approve the transaction," Reyna said. "We are working with the bond desk to ensure there is no confusion in the future and that transactions are processed in a timely manner."
After having their checks turned down, organizers went to the bank and returned to the jail with $21,000 in cash Friday afternoon. While jail employees accepted the cash, the last of the 16 prisoners wasn't released until hours later. Still waiting to be released, a woman had a seizure early Saturday morning, according to Facebook post from Faith in Texas Executive Director Edwin Robinson:
“I immediately rushed to help while Jason [Redick] alerted the officer on duty. As the lady began seizing more violently and biting her tongue Jason and I began demanding help. The officer casually walked over and casually walked away to possibly call for help. I screamed louder “Hurry GET HELP NOW HURRY!” As I’m on the ground with this woman trying to keep her from biting her tongue in half and choking on her own blood and spit that is pouring from her mouth. Another officer came over seeing what’s happening and takes off to get help with a brisk walk. I yell “RUN HURRY NOW!” He then begins running. Finally 2 nurses and a few more officers showed up and the nurses began providing aid.
“The gross lack of concern and care that was shown for this lady is indicative of the same wanton disregard a great deal of the Dallas County corrections officers and the administrative staff showed for all of us today. If we weren’t there at 3:15 a.m. that woman may have very well drowned in her own fluids.”
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Friday's ordeal comes as multiple Texas counties, including Dallas, are fighting legal battles over their bail practices. In February, civil rights groups sued Dallas County over its bail practices, accusing the county of violating the due process of people it jails by creating a system in which pretrial incarceration is based on wealth rather than risk to the community.
"When you have two people who look the same, and the only difference is the money in their pocket, the poor person remains in jail and the rich person walks free," Trisha Trigilio, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, told the Observer.
Elizabeth Rossi, an attorney with the Civil Rights Corps, one of the groups participating in the bail-out Friday, said over the weekend that what happened at Lew Sterrett highlights the flaws in the bail system, despite the fact that the 16 prisoners eventually got out.
"What happened today illustrates just how arbitrary the bail system really is," Rossi said. "Despite the fact that the folks bailed out today managed to access cash bail through local groups, they were still denied release and kept behind bars longer for no reason. Dallas County and the Sheriff maintain a discriminatory system where people must pay for freedom on terms set, on a whim, by jail clerks."