When “Reformers” Lose The Tune

Bail is bad. We know that because all the “abolish bail” reformers say so. They tell us that bail is just a way to oppress poor people, whose only “crime” is not having enough money to buy their way out of jail. And by definition, that makes the bail fund that buys the release of a person too poor to post bail good. Therefore, when Nancy Rommelmann argued that Rachael Abramson might still be alive if the Portland Bail Fund hadn’t paid the $2,000 needed to cover the $20,000 bail set for the release of Mohamed Adan, she was attacked.

Except Nancy Rommelmann was right. Between the threats, arrests and convictions, the evidence was overwhelming that Adan was going to kill Abramson. And after he was bailed out, he did.

Around 7:30 a.m. on Saturday, Portland dispatch received a call from Abraham’s number. According to court documents, Abraham’s voice could be heard saying something like “I’m not doing black magic” before the call disconnected. A dispatcher tried to call back, but the phone rang and then went to voicemail.

A few minutes after that call, a neighbor called to report a fight at the address between a man and a woman. There is no indication in the DA’s office affidavit whether police were dispatched to respond at that time.

Hours later, just before 10:45 a.m., Adan called 911 himself. He reported that Abraham was dead, according to the affidavit.

Nancy asked me, soon after the murder, if I could explain why Adan was released. What was she missing? How could this have happened? I couldn’t explain it. Between his flagrant refusal to abide release conditions of his prior arrests to the frankly near-certainty that he would attack Abramson again, this was a dude who at best would do harm and at worst commit murder.

While there was a very real issue as to why the judge set bail at all, there was another issue as to why Mohamed Adan, a man almost certain to harm Abramson, would be someone the Portland Freedom Fund deemed worthy of bailing out. So Nancy said so, and the reaction was how dare she question a bail fund. Bail was bad. Bail funds were good. Only bad people who wanted to oppress the poor would say otherwise.

For days, people have been arguing on my Twitter feed about when someone who’s proven to be a recidivistic violent criminal should be kept behind bars. This, in response to the murder of Rachael Abraham, whose killer, her former common-law husband, beat and strangled Abraham numerous times and was repeatedly released for no-bail. After the third arrest, a judge imposed bail – not for the assault and strangulation charges, but contempt of court. A private bail fund bailed him out, for $2000, after which he made good on his promise to kill Abraham. Sample comment:

The argument seems to be that poor people should not be held in jail because they cannot afford bail and, extending that argument, that people like me who believe he should have been kept in jail because he was a clear threat, are somehow prejudice against poor people, or racist, or both. This assumes, I guess, that had the would-be killer been rich, I would have been fine with him being offered the opportunity to bail himself out, which is absurd. I don’t think anyone who poses a clear and repeated threat to another individual, or society as a whole, should be allowed to walk free until they get help or are otherwise no longer deemed a serious threat. It eludes me that this is not obvious.

There might be a fair argument whether the presumption of innocence, given that Adan had not yet been convicted of the last charge despite his priors and the leniency he was shown, compelled Adan’s release. But that wasn’t the point of attack. The attack was the mantra of the “abolish bail” reformers, that the only issue was that he was too poor to pay bail and questioning the payment of the bail fund was to oppress the poor.

There is no question that cash bail is a nightmare in serious need of reform, keeping poor people in jail, and thus contributing to the coercive pressure to cop a plea rather than fight their charges, at the low end of the spectrum. But the concept is that putting up cash bail creates an incentive for a defendant to both return to court as directed and abide the conditions of release, for failure to do so will result in forfeiture of bail, something that will have a negative impact of the defendant or his loved ones who put up the money for his release.

It’s a highly imperfect concept, mostly abused at the low end of the bail spectrum and too often ineffective at the upper end, but it’s pretty much all the state has to accomplish two conflicting goals, the pre-trial release of presumptively innocent defendants and the exertion of some degree of control over defendants who may pose a risk of doing harm.

There is nothing here that can’t be reasonably debated. But there was no reasonable debate here. Oppose bail and you oppress poor people. Short enough to fit on a protest sign. Wrong enough to appear on a protest sign. So why, pray tell, did the Portland Freedom Fund decide that of the many defendants who were being held on bail, Mohamed Adan, a man who previously cut off his GPS ankle bracelet so he could attack Rachael Abramson, was the sort of poor defendant deserving its largesse?

Nancy wanted to know. Rachael Abramson would probably like to know as well, but she can’t ask because Adan murdered her.

9 thoughts on “When “Reformers” Lose The Tune

  1. orthodoc

    (It’s hot out there. I am skipping the gertruding)
    if you want to give the bail fund the benefit of the doubt, you can lay all of the blame, not just “a very real issue”, on the judge. Rachael Abraham was murdered in Aug, 2022. Just a month before, Oregon passed Senate Bill 48, a law that said that bail should be denied if “there is a danger of physical injury…by the defendant while on release.”
    So see it from the bail fund’s perspective: Bail can be offered only if there is no danger. The judge offered bail. Ipso facto, the defendant was not dangerous.
    [I don’t know enough –ie, anything, really–about Oregon law to know if it was the DA’s responsibility to present the case of dangerousness, and maybe he did not do it, or do it adequately. This really does not change the blame game vis a vis the bail fund.]

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  2. L. Phillips

    At the risk of stating the obvious, this isn’t about bail reform. This is the age old con “The system is broken and you are oppressed. Give us your allegiance and your money and we will give you utopia.” Thus it is essentially immune to rational dissection and discussion.

    This utopia even has quasi-religious themes – among them the tenet that the designated oppressors can buy their way out of their sins.

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  3. RCJParry

    Peel one layer back, and I bet you’ll find most of the Portland Bail Fund folks are ANTIFA abolitionist types.

    So, in fact, there is no type of person they want held under any circumstances. Rommelman is circumspectly examining a door ding on a demolition derby ride.

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  4. B. McLeod

    Likely, they were oblivious to the circumstances, given that their special issue was the evil of bail rather than the evil of domestic violence.

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  5. Richard Parker

    The Portland Freedom Fund is shutting down. The M.C. D.A. is asking them to pay the full bail amount for Adan. They don’t have the money. Trying to play Bail Bondsman without financial reserves and unwilling to sell their personal property (or loot their retirement accounts) to help their beloved poor.

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  6. iAmNotAnAttorney

    I’ve read this blog sometimes before, but this is the first time I’m commenting here. I dunno if this will be approved or if anyone will read it, but I feel like my thoughts were worth sharing.

    Let me start off by saying, I agree with the standpoint that they shouldn’t have funded his bail, because a woman died because he was let out on bail. Sometimes people are misguided when trying to help and can harm others in the process. But I have my doubts about my position, so let me play devils advocate.

    Could we compare the ethics of the bail fund to to the ethical obligations of a public defender (or perhaps defense attorneys in general)? These obviously aren’t the same thing, and the laws/regulations around them are different. But there are some similarities worth discussing.

    Public Defenders offices don’t pick and choose which poor person they represent. Should these bail organizations pick and choose which poor person they fund the bail of? Of course in practice, these groups likely have limited funds and can’t fund everyone. So this question is more for a scenario where they are able to fund everyone who asks for bail. Though, even in the case of limited funds, we could ask whether they should operate on a first come first served basis, or choosing who deserves the bail the most (which has its own issues).

    People can’t be convicted without a trial, but you still can be imprisoned (in jail) till your trial. Even without being convicted people can be in jail for quite some time, sometimes years. One could argue these bail funds exist to protect the rights of the accused, similarly to how defense attorneys do so.

    This man was released on bail and committed a murder. But, lets imagine a scenario where he didn’t get bail and instead went to trial, but his defense attorney managed to get him found not-guilty or maybe something like a plea deal for time served then released. In this scenario, he probably still would have killed her. Is the defense attorney to blame for the woman’s death in this hypothetical?

    From what I have read elsewhere, a typical argument is that the prosecution should have done a better job and that a defense attorney is not at fault for doing their job. Could we make a similar argument in regards to a bail fund? Along the lines of “it is the judge’s responsibility to deny bail to individuals who pose a risk to public safety, and not the responsibility of the bail fund”.

    The owner of this blog is a defense attorney so I wonder what his take on this will be.

    Reply

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