No one, but no one, with the slightest grip on how criminal law happens doubted for a moment that there would be leakage. Some wouldn’t return to court. Some would commit another crime while a case was pending. And someone would commit a truly heinous crime after being released.
It’s not a fault in the system, but human nature. Despite the rosy characterizations of the poor and downtrodden as being victims of society’s ills, which may well be true, it doesn’t change the fact that people do bad things to other people. And so it comes as no surprise that a bad thing, a truly heinous thing, happened.
The Chinatown vagrant accused of fatally bludgeoning four other homeless men over a week ago was sprung from jail not once but twice by misguided nonprofits pushing bail reform, court documents show.
The delightful description by New York’s favorite rag aside, the fact remains that this “vagrant,” 24-year-old Randy Santos, killed four people.
A homeless man confessed to fatally bludgeoning four sleeping vagrants and critically injuring a fifth during a bloody rampage through Chinatown, a prosecutor said in court on Sunday.
He confessed after being shown the video of him doing the killing. But murders happen, so why does this one warrant mention?
A judge ordered him held on $500 bail. The next day, a student from NYU Law School’s Washington Square Legal Services Fund bailed him out, putting him back on the street, court records show.
The student-run nonprofit’s mission, according to its website, is to end cash bail — and until then “subvert the cash bail system by bailing out as many people as possible.”
Or to put it in NY Post terms, had this NYU law student not posted bail, four human beings would be alive today. There were some indicia that Santos might not have been the defendant held on bail that deserved such concern from the unduly passionate.
Crazed bum Randy Santos, 24, had been in Manhattan Criminal Court on April 25, 2018, for a hearing on a misdemeanor assault rap for punching another guy in the face when he began to “whistle loudly,” prompting officers to toss him from the room, according to a criminal complaint obtained by The Post.
Santos went berserk, shoving a court officer and refusing to obey orders not to re-enter the courtroom, the papers say.
He was eventually arrested and booked on obstruction and resisting arrest charges. While awaiting arraignment, he was cuffed to a bench, where he wildly kicked at passing court officers, sources said.
Whether this is an accurate characterization of Santos’ actions is unclear; consider the source. But that he was violent, likely suffering from mental illness, and in need of care beyond the beating provided on Rikers, might have suggested that paying his bail wasn’t the best means of helping Santos, not to mention those with whom he would come into contact.
Was any of this known to the NYU bail kids? Who knows? Would it have mattered if anyone did know, if anyone took a hard look at the individual for whom they were putting up bail?
Over the next months, Santos then went in and out of custody again, picking up new cases in three boroughs and failing to show up to court on them, including for allegedly groping a woman March 8 in Queens.
His $1,000 bail in that case was posted by another nonprofit, Bronx Freedom Fund, in August, leaving him free on Oct. 5 to fatally beat four sleeping homeless men with a metal pole and leaving a fifth critically injured, officials say.
Had these third parties, with the best of intentions, not posted bail, Santos wouldn’t have been on the street. Had he not been on the street, he couldn’t have killed. That aspect of the logic is undeniable. But it also fails to answer the question of whether this outlier, this person whom everyone knew would eventually be bailed out, would eventually commit a crime, undermines the concept of bail reform, of nonprofits using their funds to pay bail for the poor, whether releasing every defendant wouldn’t have consequences.
Of course it will. The denials by the unduly passionate unfortunately set up false expectations that all defendants are sad and maligned, held only because of our racist and classist systems. There are some whose stories are going to be bad, especially to the other poor people they kill. This was always going to happen. It happened before, too.
There are thousands of people held on petty bail, imposed because some kid fresh out of law school on the DA’s payroll asks a judge to impose it, and the judge lacks the guts to just say no, because she doesn’t want her face on the front page of the Post as the judge who cut loose a killer. Of these thousands of people, there will be a guy like Santos. There always is.
A more mature view of the system wouldn’t pretend Santos doesn’t exist, couldn’t happen, but rather that it was bound to happen but is one of the risks of running an imperfect system where there is no real life Minority Report to tell us which defendant is going to go out and kill, and which of the thousands of others is going to go to work, feed their kids and keep their noses clean.
The question has always been on which side we err, the side of locking up thousands so that Santos doesn’t get out or letting Santos go free, even though it ends up that he kills. We can’t protect against every potential tragedy because we don’t know who will be the Santos and who will be the thousands of people whose release harms no one.
That said, perhaps in retrospect, Santos wasn’t a sound choice for largesse, and maybe some deeper consideration of whom they were bailing out would have given pause before putting up money for Santos. As much as Santos might have been as worthy a candidate for release as anyone else, the fact that he left four dead bodies behind may not be a reason to challenge the propriety of release, but a reason to remember that this is a complicated, messy and sometimes deadly piece of the human experience.