Waukesha parade victim talks, bail reform intensifies

Sometimes, it's hard to get children to open up. For Olivia Stover, all you need is a microphone.

"Oh my gosh it does work!" the 8-year-old exclaimed as she tested the fuzzy black ball clipped to her shirt collar. 

Stover nestled between her parents on their living room couch as FOX6 Investigator Bryan Polcyn asked her about the puppies she met at Children's Wisconsin last fall.

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"This is the famous McNugget," she beamed, recounting the personality of each puppy that offered her comfort after the most frightening experience of her young life.

It's an experience she's not especially eager to talk about.

Eight-year-old Olivia Stover has no memory of the parade attack that hospitalized her for weeks.

"Oh, I hate it!" she said with eyebrows raised above wide, blue eyes and shrugged shoulders. 

"Do you like parades?" Polcyn asked.

"Yeah!" she emphatically replied before pausing, then fixing her eyes somewhere in the distance. "Not anymore." 

A member of the Waukesha Xtreme dance team, Stover was marching alongside her friends in the Waukesha Christmas Parade last fall. Suddenly, a maroon Ford Escape emerged from behind. It was barreling straight through the parade route – a 3,000 pound machine slamming into human flesh and leaving carnage in its wake.

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Olivia's mom, Jennifer Stover, was walking just a few steps behind.

"I heard the Waukesha South band stop," she said, "and I turned around, and it hit me."

Her father, Nick Stover, was more than a block away.

"I knew something wasn’t right," he said. 

Moments later, he saw.

"There were girls scattered throughout the street and circles of people tending to them."

Jennifer pushed herself up from the pavement and began the frantic search for Olivia.

"I was in a panic!" she said.

Her parents found her unconscious, but alive.

"So you don’t remember that?" Polcyn asked. Olivia simply shook her head, no.

‘Wisconsin has a bail problem’

She is one of more than sixty children and adults injured or killed in a massacre that sent shock waves across the country.

Those shock waves are still echoing in Madison.

"Look, I’m open to anything that keeps violent criminals off the streets," said State Sen. Julian Bradley. The Franklin Republican is lead author of three bills aimed at reforming a system many blame for what happened.

"Wisconsin has a bail problem," Bradley said.

"Wisconsin’s bail system has been in need of change for a long time," said his colleague, Republican State Sen. Van Wanggaard of Racine, who authored his own proposal for a change in the state constitution.

State Senator Julian Bradley (R-Franklin) has authored three bills to increase minimum bail for repeat offenders and require annual reports on bail usage.

In all, lawmakers have filed ten separate proposals to overhaul a system of pre-trial release known as bail.

"Everybody wants somebody to blame when something bad like this happens," said Michele Lavigne, a former University of Wisconsin law professor, "and make no mistake, this was hideous."

The retired professor specializes in criminal defense strategy. In 2018, she published a 50-page bail manual for Wisconsin defense lawyers. 

The fundamental question behind all of it, she says, is: "Who can we legitimately release?"

Bail is a set of conditions that govern an accused criminal's release from jail before the case goes to trial. The most common condition is a refundable deposit of money.

"The theory is that if you’ve got some money on the line, you’re going to show up," said State Rep. Evan Goyke, a Milwaukee Democrat. 

According to the Wisconsin constitution, monetary bail can only be set at an amount necessary to ensure the defendant returns to face charges in court.

"You’ve got skin in the game, an incentive," Goyke said.

READ MORE: Waukesha parade suspect released days before due to miscommunication

Still, prosecutors and courts often use cash as a measurement of a defendant's public safety risk, too.

"Cash is a proxy for dangerousness," Lavigne said.

That is why the man accused of plowing through the Waukesha parade in November – 39-year-old Darrell Brooks – has become the face of bail reform in Wisconsin.

Brooks was already out on $500 bail for a 2020 shooting when, police say, he ran over an ex-girlfriend with his SUV in November 2021. 

Once again, a court commissioner released him on bail – this time, $1,000.

It's an amount Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm has since called "inappropriately low."

The district attorney declined FOX6's request for an interview for this story. However, in a Marquette University forum in 2017, Chisholm said $500 bail is "our way of signaling low risk."

The district attorney then told the forum crowd and his fellow panelists: "Personally, I’d like to see cash out of it completely."

Darrell Brooks

Critics of cash bail say it allows dangerous criminals with access to money to put the public at risk, while low risk offenders remain in jail, simply because they are poor.

"It takes them out of their homes," Lavigne said. "It takes them away from their families. It takes them away from jobs."

According to a recent report published by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, more than a half-million Americans are held in local jails every day – before they've been tried – because they are unable to afford bail. Even though the law presumes them innocent.

"It’s a bedrock of the American criminal justice system," Goyke said.

That's why New Jersey severely curtailed the use of money bail in 2017. New York City stopped ordering cash in misdemeanor cases in 2019. And last year, Illinois voted to become the first state in America to eliminate cash bail altogether, a law which takes full effect in 2023.

In its place, Illinois plans to use a system of pre-trial detention for the most dangerous offenders, based on a data-driven assessment of risk.

"Darrell Brooks can’t get out. He’s too dangerous," said Goyke, who wants to hold dangerous people without bail until their trials, while letting lower-risk defendants out.

In a 2018 letter to the state bail study committee, Goyke called it a "grand bargain."

"But you've got to do both sides," he said.

State Representative Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee) wants to reform the bail system, but proposes a starkly different approach than Bradley. He calls his proposal the "grand bargain." 

Bradley says pre-trial safety assessments are already being done. In fact, the PSA for Darrell Brooks found him to be a high risk. Yet, the court release him on a $1,000 bond anyway.

"It failed," Bradley said. "It did not keep Darrell Brooks off the street, and he massacred six people in Waukesha and injured 60 more."

Bradley wants to increase cash bail by setting a $10,000 minimum bail for anyone previously convicted of a felony, and a $5,000 minimum for defendants with a prior conviction for bail jumping."

"How do you pick a fixed dollar amount like $5,000 or $10,000 dollars and say, that’s the magic number?" asked Polcyn.

"That’s not the magic number," Bradley replied. "It’s the minimum. It’s the starting point."

Stover family moving forward

Nick Stover said he doesn't yet know enough to rally behind any one solution.

"Obviously what happened with Mr. Brooks was a huge injustice," he said.

"Absolutely completely ridiculous that he was out," Jennifer added.

Whatever the answer, they say something has to change.

"Clearly there’s an issue," Jennifer said.

Stover suffered brain bleeds, headaches and a broken ankle that now has two pins in it. Still, she hopes to return to dancing soon.

After weeks in the hospital battling brain bleeds, headaches and a shattered ankle, Olivia is back on her feet.

She dreams of dancing again soon with her teammates. She also dreams of a future without dangerous people.

"If I could have my own world," she said. "There’d be [more] puppies in the world."

When it comes to a presumption of innocence, hers is guaranteed.

Stover is one of more than two dozen parade victims with online fundraising accounts verified by GoFundMe:

Legislation

Ten pieces of legislation have been filed in Madison so far this year, including:

Only one has received a vote by either full chamber of the legislature. Assembly Joint Resolution 107 would amend the state constitution to allow judges to consider public safety risk when setting cash bail.

The Assembly passed the resolution 69-21 with 56 Republicans and 13 Democrats in favor. Twenty-one Democrats and no Republicans voted against. Nine lawmakers did not cast votes.

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