Debate over the bail project intensifies after concerns raised by local bail bonds company

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ST. LOUIS – A St. Louis bail bonds company is raising new questions tonight about The Bail Project.

That`s the bail assistance group that bonded out Samuel Scott, the man who police say then beat his wife so badly that she died.

Jajuan Harris and his wife Ashley have owned Mr. Harris Bail Bonds in downtown St. Louis for 12 years.

They deal with bonding people out of jail every day and say what happened in the Samuel Scott case was tragic.

“It could have been avoided,” said Jajuan.

Scott was arrested and charged on April 5th with misdemeanor domestic assault for allegedly hitting his wife Marcia Johnson in January.

The Bail Project, a national non-profit group that bonds people out of jail who need financial help, posted bond for Scott on April 9th.

Police say a short time later, Scott returned to the south city apartment that he shared with Marcia and beat her so severely that she died five days later.

The Harris` says red flags should have gone up in the Scott case because of what he was accused of doing to his wife in January.

They also point out that Marcia got an order of protection against Scott the day before his bond was posted and the alleged beating happened.

The Harris` believe The Bail Project was negligent in posting Scott`s $5,000 cash only bond.

“The restraining order alone would have made me put more emphasis on what we need to do to get him away from her,” said Jajuan.

He added, “My biggest concern is the regulation, they being unregulated. There`s no one that sets guidelines for them. They set their own guidelines. And there`s no training process, there`s nothing that the state of Missouri makes them go through in order to post so many bonds.”

The Harris` also take issue with a Bail Project statement last week reading that a commercial bail bond agency could have bonded Scott out.

The Harris` argue that`s not true because they say bail bond companies can`t post cash-only bonds.

The Harris` also point to cases where suspects have been bonded out by The Bail Project then did not show up for court.

“They`re so convinced and so headstrong about helping the defendant but when have they sat back and asked about the victims,” said Jajuan.

The Bail Project denied our on-camera interview request saying their workers have come under ‘very worrisome personal threats.’

But a statement reads that since The Bail Project started in St. Louis in January of last year, the group has bonded out 1,419 people., 841 in St. Louis city and 578 in St. Louis County.  That, The Bail Project says, has ‘(reduced) the St. Louis pretrial jail population significantly.’

The statement reveals that The Bail Project has helped people who were bonded out to make over 94% of their court appearances, and in the City of St. Louis, over 50% of those who were bonded out have had their cases dismissed.

The Bail Project says it does not ‘discriminate by charge’ who gets bail assistance but the group does focus on bails under $5,000 to help the most people possible.

On the Scott case, the statement reads, “Mr. Scott had been charged with a 4th-degree misdemeanor assault and the court set a low bail that the prosecution did not oppose. No one could have predicted this horrible tragedy, not the judge, not the prosecutor, and not a bail advocate.”

Mary Fox, the head Public Defender for the St. Louis city trial office, supports The Bail Project.

Her office represents Scott so she would not comment specifically on that case.  She believes The Bail Project is providing a valuable service to St. Louis.

“What The Bail Project is doing is providing the constitutional rights to people who are too poor to have those constitutional rights provided on their own,” said Fox.

She added, “In reality, by posting bond they`re keeping our community safer by keeping people in better conditions while they are awaiting their trial.”

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner says she is hoping to meet soon with The Bail Project.

Gardner released a statement saying she ‘will ask The Bail Project to review the public court records’ of each person they want to bail out.

In the Scott case, Gardner says that information ‘would have given The Bail Project an appreciation for the level of risk associated in the case.’

Gardner will also ask The Bail Project to contact her office on all domestic violence or victim cases before posting bonds so authorities can evaluate safety issues.

“Please do more research on these people. Have some concern for the victim,” said Jajuan.

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