ACLU calls $1 million bail for Lancaster protesters illegal, ‘unconscionable’

Lancaster

LANCASTER, Pa. (WHTM) — Police have been arresting protesters since Sunday following the death Ricardo Munoz. Munoz was killed by police after charging an officer with a knife.

Seven of those arrested face a million-dollar bail for arson and riotous charges.

“What we saw was just unconscionable,” said Nyssa Taylor of the ACLU.

She said the bail isn’t just unusual — it’s illegal.

“The supreme court has been very clear — monetary condition of bail should never be assigned for the purpose of holding someone in custody until their trial,” Taylor said.

She said judges should consider 12 factors including, community ties and prior records before assigning bail. To see so many protesters with the same million dollar figure is troubling, according to Taylor.

“They’re presumed innocent, and yet judges assign bail to hold them, and that should not be happening. So much of our justice system — it’s really turning the presumption of innocence on its head,” she said.

To the Lancaster police, this is justice.

Chief Berkihiser provided the following statement:

We did not request a specific bail amount but we did request high bail for each individual we arrested due to the serious nature of the riot and the potential for ongoing riotous activity and threats against our officers, the city and the police building.  The primary purpose of bail is to secure a person’s presence at trial and to protect the public from an alleged dangerous individual.  A Magisterial District Judge weighs several factors before they set bail and it includes the nature or seriousness of the offense, a person’s background, ties to the community, prior criminal history and any other factors the court finds relevant.  The last part of that decision making matrix if you will allows law enforcement or prosecuting attorneys to provide additional information to be considered.  We have done this in other cases involving serious charges or information that the person is a flight risk or may continue to commit criminal activity or escalate their criminal activity.   This is not the first time we have asked judges to consider high bail. 

“If this is the response, then this isn’t going to lead to anything better,” said Issac Etter, executive director of Safehouse Lancaster.

Etter said Safehouse Lancaster has worked with several of the arrested protesters all summer during the George Floyd demonstrations and there was never a problem.

“Nobody was necessarily on Facebook, saying that they were going to flee town. The people that were arrested were picked up for reasons they don’t even know because they weren’t told when they were arrested,” he said.

Now, Etter and groups like the NAACP and Lancaster Stands Up are working to get the bail reduced.

“Our front is to get our friends out and to tell this city that this cannot happen again,” Etter said.

Six others were arrested as part of the protests. Their bail information is not yet available.

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