In Kentucky, a Black Lives Matter bail fund has paid to release violent rapists, murderers, and even a would-be political assassin. Now, Republicans in the state are moving to rein in the practice.
Kentucky legislators Jason Nemes and John Blanton are behind the effort. The Republicans are pushing two bills that would forbid bail funds from paying to release certain arrestees and allow judges to deny bail for particularly heinous criminals. The move comes just days after a Louisville bail fund paid $100,000 to free Quintez Brown, a prominent liberal activist who is charged with attempting to murder Jewish Democratic mayoral hopeful Craig Greenberg in his campaign office.
Under Kentucky law, judges are barred from denying bail in all cases other than capital murder. As a result, even heinous repeat offenders who pose a significant risk to their communities can secure their release from prison if they procure enough cash. In the past, that fundraising burden would typically fall on the offender and his or her family and friends. The recent explosion of groups such as the Louisville Community Bail Fund, however, has turned the state's bail process on its head.
Thanks to support from some of the biggest names in national Democratic politics, the Louisville Community Bail Fund—which is tied to the city's Black Lives Matter chapter—has raised millions of dollars since its inception in 2019 to secure the release of local arrestees. But the group is hardly focused on low-level offenders. Since the summer of 2020, the fund has bailed out dozens of repeat criminals accused of reprehensible crimes.
It paid $25,000, for example, to bail out accused rapist Austen Bush, a registered sex offender who served six years in prison on child pornography charges. Bush had a history of parole violations and was considered a "risk to the victim if released." The Louisville Community Bail Fund came to his aid anyway. During his time out of prison, Bush again violated his parole by contacting his victim to threaten to kill her. When police went to rearrest the 26-year-old in October 2020, he hopped a fence and fled into oncoming traffic.
Roughly a year and a half after the ordeal, the Louisville Community Bail Fund made national headlines when it posted Brown's bail just 48 hours after police charged the activist with Greenberg's attempted assassination. The group vehemently defended its decision to post Brown's bail, arguing that the activist needed "immediate mental Healthcare."
Republican lawmakers in Kentucky began discussing ways to restrict charitable bail long before Brown's release. But as the national spotlight shines on the Louisville Community Bail Fund, state Republicans are using the moment to press forward with multiple bills that would change the bail process in Louisville and across the state.
One bill, which Nemes and Blanton introduced in January, would restrict charitable bail by amending a state law that abolishes for-profit bail bonding. Nemes, a Louisville native who represents the city's eastern suburbs, told the Washington Free Beacon that the bill is being amended in committee to forbid bail funds from releasing anyone other than "people with minor offenses whose bail is low." The bill would also require bail funds to "report their donors, their expenditures, who they bail out, what charges they were bailed out for, and how much they paid to bail people out." Should an arrestee released by a bail fund commit a crime while out of prison, the bail money would be forfeited to the victim.
But Nemes is not stopping there. Following Brown's release, Nemes unveiled another bill that proposes a constitutional amendment to allow Kentucky judges to deny bail for those who are "highly likely" to have committed particularly heinous crimes and pose a significant risk to the community. Nemes said the bill would prevent situations in which a seemingly high bail amount was easily posted by a bail fund with millions of dollars at its disposal.
"I'm told … the judge [in Brown's case] didn't imagine that the $100,000 would have been posted. That's a big number here. She didn't know that this group was going to raise money and post bail for this person," Nemes told the Free Beacon. "Well, the group comes in, posts the bail. Now, this guy who attempted to assassinate the frontrunner for Louisville mayor is walking free two days later. I mean, that's abhorrent. It shocks the conscience. And I think it's frightening."
Republicans control more than 75 percent of Kentucky's legislature, a veto-proof supermajority that means they do not need support from their Democratic colleagues—or Democratic governor Andy Beshear—to pass the bills. But Nemes is optimistic that Democrats will step across the aisle to support the proposals. In the wake of Brown's release, he said, a number of his Democratic colleagues reached out to express shock over the situation.
"Some of them were very upset and scared, not only for Craig, who a lot of them know, love, and support, but for themselves," Nemes said. "You know, is this the way it is—you can target a public servant, and all of a sudden, you're walking two days later out of jail? People have been stunned. We need to change that."
According to Nemes, his bill to restrict bail funds will be heard next week and should advance to the state senate "very soon." The Louisville Community Bail Fund did not return a request for comment.
Kentucky is not the only state that has moved to crack down on bail charities. After a group in Indiana bailed out two accused offenders who were charged with grisly murders while out of jail, Republican lawmakers introduced a bill that would limit charitable bail aid to "two thousand dollars or less for an indigent person charged with a misdemeanor."