Questions remain over bail system amid repeat criminal out on low bond

Published: May. 22, 2023 at 10:15 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - There are more unanswered questions about how the bail system operates in Shelby County criminal courts. Worried citizens aren’t the only ones keeping a close eye on the case of a teenage car theft and shooting suspect who keeps posting bail and getting out of jail.

First it bears repeating: the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office does not set bail. Judicial Commissioners - lawyers, former judges and law enforcement personnel appointed by the Shelby County Commission - are the people deciding bail. There are 14 judicial commissioners now, whose main job is to help the elected judges handle an enormous caseload. But the decisions that multiple judicial commissioners have made in the case of 19-year-old Chase Harris seem to be at odds with what the DA’s office is seeking.

Harris’ record showed he was first arrested December 20 of last year and charged with a stealing a Dodge Charger. He was released without bond, even though the arrest affidavit said: “Chase Harris confessed that he was responsible for the stolen car.”

Memphis police said Harris went on to steal a Land Rover in January, which wasn’t discovered until MPD got a hit on the fingerprints, which connected him to the crime in February. He wasn’t arrested until April 20 and a judicial commissioner released him on $5,000 bond.

Ten days later, on April 30, there was a shootout in the parking lot of Huey’s in East Memphis after MPD said an off-duty officer confronted two suspects breaking into cars. Harris, said investigators, was hit multiple times and taken by private car to St. Francis, then airlifted to Regional One. On May 2, a warrant was issued for Harris, now charged with breaking into several cars on April 3.

He was arrested May 9 and charged with multiple counts of aggravated assault and reckless endangerment for the Huey’s incident, along with being charged with the April 3 car break-ins. A judicial commissioner set his bond at $55,000 for the Huey’s charges and $10,000 for the theft from motor vehicles charges. Defendant’s pay 10% of their bond to get out of jail, so that means Harris paid about $5,500 to get out of jail, despite being charged with firing a weapon at a police officer in a shooting that left the restaurant and cars riddled with bullet holes. No one else was injured in the violent encounter.

Then on May 12, Chase Harris was arrested again and charged with stealing an Infiniti back on April 2. The Shelby County DA’s Office posted to social media that day:  “We are seeking pretrial detention for Mr. Chase (sic), who is presently in custody.”

The very next day, May 13, Harris was back out on the street released on a $50,000 bond.

He appeared in court on May 15 and walked right out after the proceedings.

On May 16, Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy told Action News 5: “Before our office had it, the judicial commissioner was able to set a bond and he was able to make that bond. We are seeking pretrial detention at the next available court date which is June 1.”

Monday, May 22, DA Mulroy’s office posted to social media: “We filed a motion to revoke or increase (Harris’) bond last Tuesday. The prior decisions to release this defendant were made by a judicial commissioner with no prosecutor or defense lawyer present.”

So why are judicial commissioners allowing an accused repeat offender like Chase Harris out of jail? What do judicial commissioners consider a “violent” crime to be? These are questions Action News 5 would like to ask the judicial commissioners, but we have to go through Mayor Lee Harris’ office to do that. A request for interview has been submitted.

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