Dameron Carmon was arrested in April for theft and credit card fraud. After his bail was set at $300, it was paid by someone he never met, Jennifer Schnidman Medberry.
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Records show that Carmon had 11 prior convictions, five for felonies, including assault with a dangerous weapon. His New Orleans arrest came right after he served two years in a Texas prison for the assault. But what's more interesting is what happened after Medberry bailed him out.
Carmon was one of more than 70 alleged street-level dealers arrested in August during Operation Summer Heat, the NOPD's biggest drug roundup in years.
“Our undercover officers came into contact with dozens of the most dangerous drug dealers in the city,” New Orleans Police Superintendent Michael Harrison said at a press conference announcing the drug sweep.
Booked with distribution of heroin, Carmon's bail was set this time at $5,000.
Again, Medberry posted Carmon's bail. But before he could get out, police discovered that Carmon had a warrant for his arrest out of Texas.
Medberry is one of the founders of the Freedom Fund, a community organization that raises money to post bail for arrested suspects. Documents show the fund has been used to bail out about 200 suspects, paying more than $200,000 from a revolving fund financed by donors and activists.
Records obtained exclusively by Channel 4 show that a total of seven Operation Summer Heat suspects had their bail paid by the Freedom Fund.
We asked Medberry how much she knew about Carmon’s background and whether his rap sheet and back-to-back arrests made her re-think the fund’s willingness to post his bail not once, but twice.
She declined to go into the specifics about Carmon’s case, but said that generally the fund relies on the risk assessment background check completed by the court and, more importantly, the bail amount set by the judge or magistrate. The fund won’t post any bail over $5,000, she said.
“The judge has made this assessment that this individual is not a risk to public safety and can return to their community while their case works through the system,” Medberry said.
Records show that the fund was incorporated last year by Joshua Cox, now a senior assistant to Mayor LaToya Cantrell. In more than a dozen cases, Cox has personally posted the bail and signed the deposit forms on behalf of defendants.
Along with Medberry and other civic-minded business entrepreneurs, Cox started the fund in May 2017. He joined Cantrell’s administration in May 2018, but records obtained through WWL-TV’s investigation show that Cox has continued his work with the fund since being hired at City Hall.
In one case since he joined City Hall, Cox paid $5,000 to free a third-degree rape suspect.
“We should be very worried in this city with what you're finding here. We should be very worried. This is not a low-risk first-time non-violent offender. This is a rape charge,” said Matt Dennis, head of the Louisiana Bail Agents Coalition.
Cox, whose title is director of strategic initiatives, was not made available for comment about his work with the fund. Mayor Cantrell also declined to answer questions, but her press secretary provided a statement supporting Cox’s dual roles.
"Mayor Cantrell has complete faith in Mr. Cox, and no objection to the work he does independently with the Freedom Fund on his own time,” the statement reads. “The Mayor is not aware of any impropriety, and we believe there is no conflict with his work as part of the administration.”
But Rafael Goyeneche, president of the non-profit Metropolitan Crime Commission, said Cox’s continued participation in the Freedom Fund calls for an answer from City Hall.
“The police department is charged with removing these offenders, and then somebody on the city's payroll is actually one of the people that's involved in providing the money to get people out for free,” he said. “I think that the public is owed an explanation.”
A closer look of Summer Heat suspects bailed out by the Freedom Fund reveals a few with troubling criminal histories.
-- Louis Cincore, booked with distribution of crack cocaine, has 18 prior convictions, including 10 felonies, convictions that netted him several stretches in prison time in Louisiana and Texas. The fund paid $750 for his release.
-- Duane Morris, booked with distribution of crack, has seven prior convictions and a history of missed court appearances, but the fund paid his bail after it was reduced by a magistrate commissioner from $5,000 to $150.
-- Carlson Young, booked with distribution of crack, had his bail paid personally by Joshua Cox after it was reduced from $2,500 to $150. His record shows five prior felony convictions and two misdemeanor convictions.
“A very, very disturbing set of circumstances,” said Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro when shown the WWL-TV findings.
Mayor Cantrell touted roundup of suspects, but a top assistant's group bailed 7 of them out
Cannizzaro said he strongly opposes the new bail policies and the Freedom Fund's involvement, but not just on philosophical grounds. He points to two potential legal problems.
First, Article 327 of the state's code of criminal procedure states: "A person shall not be released on bail for which an attorney...provides money or property for bail." Joshua Cox is an attorney licensed in Louisiana.
“As a lawyer, you are not allowed to post a bond in a criminal case. That's against the law,” Cannizzaro said.
There’s another legal issue. The reform push has led the court to set bail in hundreds of cases payable by cash only, cutting out bail bond companies. A licensed agent can cover a person's bail by charging 13 percent of the bail amount. But unlike cash bail, surety bonds are non-refundable.
However, a 1989 state Supreme Court ruling – Louisiana v. Parker –states: “The district court may not exclude all forms of surety bond in preference for cash as a condition of release.”
Cannizzaro said the “cash only” designation is ripe for a legal challenge.
“The law does not allow for that,” Cannizzaro said. “The law allows that if an individual wanted to put up cash, that's at his option. What is being done is contrary to the dictates of the Louisiana Supreme Court.”