Governor proposes changes to Texas bail system in honor of fallen deputy

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Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday said he wants to see the bail system toughened for repeat offenders to honor a fallen Texas Department of Public Safety trooper.

Trooper Damon Allen was shot and killed on Thanksgiving of last year during a traffic stop in Freestone County. Dabrett Black was later arrested following a shootout.

Black has a long criminal history. Prior to Allen’s death, he was charged with assaulting a deputy and ramming that deputy’s car during a chase. After the incident, Black’s bond was set at $15,500. He bailed out before the incident involving Allen.

The governor said a suspect’s criminal history should be taken into account when bail is set. He’s calling for the legislature to pass the Damon Allen Act in the upcoming session.

“My top priority is to keep Texans safe. That goal is compromised when the law enforcement officers charged with keeping Texans safe are themselves under assault,” Gov. Abbott said.

The troopers’ widow, Kacey Allen, supports Abbott’s efforts and was on hand for the press conference.

“Despite his history and the nature of his crime, he was released on a bond of $15,500 because the judge did not know of his past history,” Allen said.

Abbott's proposal calls for a state-wide case management system allowing judges to review criminal histories of suspects and enabling them to consider threats to law enforcement before setting higher bonds.

"This is the type of person who either should have no bail or the bail should be so high that it would be difficult to meet,” Abbott said.

While Abbott’s effort is focused on violent repeat offenders, there is another push for bail reform in the opposite direction -- making it less punitive on low-level offenders.

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner is a national advocate who's visiting Dallas to promote his views on criminal justice reform.

"It's not about money!  We can't have a system where poor people are treated one way and people who have jobs are treated differently just because they can't pay,” Krasner said.

He believes many non-violent offenders are stuck in a cycle of not being able to afford bail and spending excessive time in jail.

But he also believes the most violent offenders deserve high bond and says Abbott's proposal sounds a lot like what his state is already doing.            

“We go prior criminal record as an aspect of evaluating likelihood of showing up and likelihood of risk,” Krasner said.

Any changes to the bail system in Texas would have to come from the state legislature, which meets again in 2019.