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Waukesha Christmas parade attack

Waukesha Christmas parade attack
Site of the incident on the corner of Barstow and Main streets on November 22. Police investigate behind the yellow caution tape.
LocationWaukesha, Wisconsin, U.S.
Coordinates43°00′44″N 88°13′45″W / 43.01222°N 88.22917°W / 43.01222; -88.22917
DateNovember 21, 2021; 2 years ago (2021-11-21)
~4:39 p.m. (CST)
TargetPeople attending or participating in the annual Waukesha Christmas parade
Attack type
Vehicle-ramming attack, mass murder, pedicide
Weapons2010 Ford Escape
Deaths6
Injured62
PerpetratorDarrell Edward Brooks, Jr.
MotiveUnknown
Verdict
Convictions [1][3][a]
SentenceSix consecutive life sentences without the possibility of extended supervision plus 762+12 years, and restitution totaling $523,293.01[1][4][5]

On November 21, 2021, Darrell Edward Brooks Jr. drove a sport utility vehicle (SUV) through the annual Christmas parade in Waukesha, Wisconsin, United States, killing six people and injuring sixty-two others.[2]

Brooks pleaded not guilty to six counts of first-degree intentional homicide and seventy additional charges. He chose to represent himself at his trial, which began on October 3, 2022.[6] Brooks presented pseudolegal arguments from the sovereign citizen movement[7] and was repeatedly removed from the courtroom for failing to comply with decorum and courtesy.[8] On October 26, 2022, a jury found Brooks guilty on all seventy-six charges.[b][2] On November 16, 2022, he was sentenced to six consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole, plus an additional 762.5 years to be served consecutively.[9]

Background

Waukesha, a western suburb of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has an annual traditional Christmas parade downtown.[10][11] In 2020, the parade was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.[12] The 2021 parade, the 58th annual event, featured more than 60 entries and had the theme "Comfort and Joy".[13]

Attack

The perpetrator drove a similar maroon 2010 Ford Escape during the attack.[14]

On November 21, 2021, around 4:39 p.m. (CST), 39-year-old Darrell Brooks drove a red 2010 Ford Escape SUV, moving at about 40 miles per hour (64 km/h), past barricades and through the annual Christmas parade in Waukesha.[15][16][17] One police officer banged on the hood of the SUV in an attempt to get Brooks to stop.[18] In the final stage of the rampage, an officer fired his gun in an attempt to stop the vehicle.[19][20][21]

The parade was live-streamed, and other attendees captured the incident on videos later posted to social media. Two eyewitnesses told reporters that the driver did not initially stop; all they could hear was people screaming and crying.[22] One witness described the driver as "calm and composed".[13][23] Police reported that the driver deliberately targeted the crowd, driving in a "zig-zag pattern" to hit as many people as possible.[24]

Victims

Abandoned items from parade goers on the corner of Broadway and Main St.

During the immediate aftermath of the ramming, five people were confirmed killed and forty-eight others were injured.[25] The five dead were identified as four women and one man.[26] Four of the dead were members of the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies, a dance group composed solely of grandmothers.[27][28]

Hospitals admitted twenty-eight people, nine of whom were in critical condition.[22][25][29] Seventeen children were among the wounded,[19][26] with three remaining hospitalized at Children's Wisconsin until early December.[30][31] By November 23, two days after the incident, the number of people reported injured had increased to sixty-two and the number of fatalities had increased to six after an eight-year-old child died at a hospital.[24][32] The ages of the dead ranged from 8 to 81.[33]

On December 15, 2023, WWE premiered a documentary on Peacock, Braun Strowman: Waukesha Strong. The documentary details the life and death of Jackson Sparks, the 8-year-old boy who died in the parade.[34]

Aftermath

The Waukesha Police Department issued a shelter-in-place order for parts of Waukesha but withdrew it the same evening.[35][36] The Waukesha School District canceled school on November 22 and made additional counselors available to students.[35] On November 22, vigils were held across the city.[37] A week after the attacks the city of Waukesha held a moment of silence.[38] Children's Wisconsin opened a crisis hotline for those seeking emotional and psychological support.[39] First Lady Jill Biden met privately with victims' family members and attended a memorial to the victims on December 15.[40]

Several donation efforts were made, with nearly $900,000 having been raised on GoFundMe for victims of the attack,[41] and 7,000 donations being made raising over $1.8 million to the United for Waukesha Community Fund.[42] In addition, local contractors volunteered to install wheelchair ramps in the homes of those injured from the attack who would need wheelchairs.[43]

In March 2022, the United for Waukesha Community Fund announced that they had raised more than $6.2 million for the victims of the attack.[44]

Perpetrator

Darrell Brooks
2022 mug shot of Brooks
Born
Darrell Edward Brooks Jr.

February 21, 1982 (age 41)
NationalityAmerican
Known forPerpetrator of the Waukesha Christmas parade attack
Criminal penalty6 life sentences without the possibilty of parole plus 762 years and 6 months
Criminal statusIncarcerated

On the day of the attack, police recovered a damaged Ford Escape and arrested then 39-year-old Darrell Edward Brooks Jr. (born February 21, 1982), who was born and raised in Milwaukee and has an extensive criminal record dating back to September 1999.[29][45][46][35][47][48] A note, that was written according to police records, stated that in his early days in Milwaukee, Brooks was raised without a father but had a supportive mother. His grandmother wrote a letter to the court that Brooks began living with bipolar disorder at the age of 12, after he was hospitalized for mental health conditions in 1994.[49] Brooks also didn't complete his high school education after he was charged with his first felony on September 5, 1999, for substantial battery while he was a junior at high school at the age of 17. He was sentenced to two years in jail, three years of probation, and six months at Milwaukee County Community Reintegration Center in nearby Franklin.[50]

Brooks was arrested on the night of the attack, soon after he told a Waukesha resident that he was homeless and asked to use his phone to call an Uber.[51] The man was unaware of the events that had occurred and permitted Brooks briefly inside his home, giving him a sandwich and letting him borrow a jacket, but asked him to leave when police arrived. Brooks left the man's home and surrendered to police without incident.[52]

It is believed Brooks acted alone and did not know anyone at the parade.[18][52][53][54] Police investigated whether he was fleeing from a nearby domestic disturbance when encountering the parade.[29] The police chief said, "We have information that the suspect prior to the incident was involved in a domestic disturbance, which was just minutes prior, and the suspect left that scene just prior to our arrival to that domestic disturbance."[25] He also said that Brooks was not being chased by police when he drove into the parade route.[53] Prosecutors alleged that Brooks was trying to "strike and hurt as many people as possible".[41]

Criminal history

Brooks faced criminal charges in Manitowoc in 2005.[55] Following this, in November 2006, he was convicted of a felony statutory sexual seduction after impregnating a 15-year-old girl in Sparks, Nevada. He plead guilty in March 2007 and was sentenced to 12–36 months at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center in Carson City. He was released in September 2008.[56] Brooks then had subsequent criminal charges in Wisconsin Rapids in 2010.[55] In 2016, he was made subject to a warrant for a statutory sex crime in Sparks, Nevada. This warrant remained outstanding at the time of the November 2021 attack.[57]

On July 24, 2020, while living in the Milwaukee community area of Arlington Heights, Brooks was charged with second-degree recklessly endangering safety and felon in possession of a firearm after he allegedly shot at his nephew and a friend after a fight over a cell phone near a North 19th Street house in the Milwaukee community area of North Division. He was held pending trial, and did not post bail of $10,000; however, the trial was delayed, and he was released on a reduced $500 bond on February 9, 2021.[58]

Five months and five weeks prior to the Waukesha attack, Brooks was arrested in relation to domestic violence whilst staying at the Country Hearth Inn in Union City, Georgia. A witness told police that he was staying in the room next to Brooks when he overheard him arguing with and beating up his ex-girlfriend, causing the witness to confront Brooks. According to WXIA-TV, Brooks flashed a firearm in front of the ex-girlfriend during the argument. After spending the rest of the day behind bars at the East Point Law Enforcement Center in East Point, Brooks appeared in court the following day on May 28. He received a signature bond, but never made it to its signature court date.[59]

On November 2, 2021, three weeks prior to the Waukesha attack, Brooks punched his ex-girlfriend before running her over with his vehicle.[60] The subsequent charges held against him included second-degree recklessly endangering safety with domestic abuse assessments (a felony), as well as disorderly conduct with domestic abuse assessments. Brooks posted $1000 bail on November 19, two days before the Waukesha attack, and was released the same day.[61][53][62]

Legal proceedings

Pre-trial proceedings

Brooks was initially charged with five counts of first-degree intentional homicide. Following the death of a sixth victim, Brooks's bond was set at $5 million, and he remained in custody,[63] following an initial court appearance.[64] The Waukesha County District Attorney said more charges were likely to come[18] and charged Brooks with a sixth count of first-degree intentional homicide on November 29.[65]

Brooks was interviewed by Fox News while he was in custody and he said, "I just feel like I'm being monster—demonized."[66] His mother wrote a letter to the media saying Brooks had a long history of mental health problems and no health insurance to pay for treatment.[66][67] In December, Brooks was charged further for the November 21 incident, with charges of intimidating a witness and intimidation of a victim, both felonies. He is alleged to have called his girlfriend from jail over several days and threatened her to prevent her cooperation with the investigation.[60]

In January 2022, seventy-seven additional charges were filed against Brooks for the parade attack, including sixty-one counts of first-degree recklessly endangering safety with a dangerous weapon, six counts of hit and run involving death, two counts of felony bail jumping, and two counts of domestic abuse.[68][69] The latter charges are in relation to two altercations between Brooks and his girlfriend on the day of the attack and the day before.[70]

Trial and sentencing

On January 14, 2022, Waukesha Court Commissioner Kevin Costello ruled in preliminary hearing that Brooks would stand trial due to "ample evidence on all fronts". Waukesha police detective Thomas Casey testified in the hearing as a witness, saying that he and other officers at the scene yelled at Brooks to stop. At the same time, Brooks zigzagged with his vehicle for blocks to strike pedestrians. Brooks's defense attorney Anna Kees argued that Brooks was high during the incident, noting that the police officers who arrested him noticed that Brooks smelled of cannabis and had red glassy eyes. Kees also claimed that Brooks did not intend to kill anyone, as he "couldn't bring himself" to look at photos of the victims. District Attorney Susan Opper counter-argued that all that Brooks had to do was stop and that even if he was intoxicated, he still committed multiple crimes.[71][72]

On February 11, 2022, Brooks pleaded not guilty to all charges.[73][74][75] Defense attorney Jeremy Perri entered two motions, requesting in the first one for a different trial in a different county, claiming that Brooks was unlikely to receive a fair and impartial jury trial in grief-stricken Waukesha, citing the "ubiquitous" Waukesha Strong solidarity movement within the county. The second motion requested a new judge for the case, for which no reason was given.[76] Court Commissioner Costello denied the first motion but granted the second motion, reassigning the case from Judge Michael Bohren to Chief Judge Jennifer Dorow.[77] One month later, Dorow scheduled Brooks's trial for October 3, 2022,[78] at the Waukesha County Circuit Court.[79] Before jury selection, one count of domestic battery was dropped by the prosecutors.[80]

In a pre-trial hearing, Brooks requested self-representation. Judge Dorow considered the request and ruled that Brooks could proceed pro se.[81] During proceedings, Brooks used arguments from the sovereign citizen movement, a pseudolegal movement whose adherents claim that courts do not have jurisdiction over them.[7][82] Brooks declared himself to be "sovereign", stated that he did not consent to being recognized by his name,[82] asked if the court was "a common law court or an admiralty law court",[83] and argued that since the state of Wisconsin was an entity rather than a person, it could not file a claim against him.[84] These arguments had not succeeded before in criminal trials; Judge Dorow ruled that Brooks was not allowed to argue that he was a sovereign citizen in court, stating that the defense was without merit.[85]

During his trial, Brooks was repeatedly removed from the courtroom after failing to comply with decorum; some of these instances included Brooks engaging in numerous interruptions, back talking, glaring, and other outbursts with Judge Dorow.[8] On October 24, 2022, Brooks was given the chance to offer the defense; however, due to Brooks's repeated misbehavior and failing to follow decorum, Judge Dorow ruled that he had forfeited his right to call further witnesses (which would have included his mother) and declared the evidentiary stage of the trial over. Closing arguments began on October 25, and the jury deliberations began that same day.[86]

Before giving his closing argument, Brooks asked Judge Dorow if she had instructed the jury on jury nullification. Dorow sent the jury away so that she could warn Brooks, outside their presence, that he was not allowed to make that argument. Dorow cited case law which held that jury nullification was not a proper argument and that she had the power to shut down any argument that went outside the bounds of the law. Brooks engaged in a lengthy debate with the judge, during which he insisted that he be allowed to "inform the jury of the truth". Dorow maintained her position and warned Brooks that if he persisted in raising the issue of jury nullification, he would forfeit his right to give a closing argument. Eventually, the prosecution suggested that rather than immediately revoking his right to a closing argument, Brooks would be allowed to make his closing argument, and the prosecution would handle any improper arguments through objection. The judge agreed. Within the first minute of his closing argument, Brooks argued for jury nullification. The prosecution swiftly objected and the jury was told to disregard the argument.[3][87]

On October 26, the jury returned with guilty verdicts on all seventy-six counts, after deliberating for a total of three hours and fifteen minutes.[2]

Brooks was sentenced on November 16, 2022. Judge Dorow imposed six life sentences without parole, one for each of the deceased victims, to be served consecutively. For the sixty-one counts of reckless endangerment, she sentenced Brooks to a total of 762 years of initial confinement and 305 years of extended supervision. For the six counts of hit-and-run, he received 150 years to run concurrently with the reckless endangerment sentences.[88]

Post-sentencing and incarceration

After conviction and sentencing, Brooks filed for an appeal. He filed a motion for a stay of judgment pending appeal. He was placed on a suicide prevention protocol.[89] Upon his November 2022 conviction, he was submitted for incarceration at Waupun's Dodge Correctional Institution;[90] the Wisconsin Department of Corrections' Inmate and Offender Search tool confirms he was still incarcerated at that particular facility as of July 2023. He is now incarcerated at the Wisconsin Secure Program Facility in Boscobel, Wisconsin and an Offender Search tool confirms that he is imprisoned at that exact facility as of February 2024.[91][92]

Responses and Reactions

Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers expressed gratitude for the efforts of first responders and good Samaritans, and voiced support for affected families and community members.[93] Evers ordered the United States and Wisconsin flags to be flown at half-staff the day after the incident in honor of the victims.[94]

President Joe Biden condemned the attack, calling it a "horrific act of violence".[95]

Wisconsin senators Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson released a joint statement, asking people to avoid using the event for political purposes.[96]

Pope Francis sent prayers and condolences to the victims on a message signed on his behalf.[97][98]

Waukesha County Executive Paul Farrow posted on social media and stated: "Please pray for our community tonight after the horrific events at the Waukesha Christmas Parade."[99]

The attack triggered a backlash against bail reform. Brooks was released on $1,000 bail two weeks before the attack when he was arrested for allegedly running over a woman with his vehicle during an altercation,[100][101] and the attack came at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic had resulted in courts wanting to reduce jail crowding to reduce risk of infection by giving lower bail requests.[100][102] The bail, however, was not a result of any systemic changes to Waukesha's pretrial system;[103][104] the office of the Milwaukee District Attorney John T. Chisholm, which set his bail, said in a statement that "the State's bail recommendation in this case was inappropriately low in light of the nature of the recent charges and the pending charges against Mr. Brooks",[102] and said that bail was a result of "human error" of an overworked assistant district attorney.[105] A court commissioner who was also involved in setting the bail was indefinitely reassigned to non-criminal cases.[106]

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported that the contents of Brooks' Facebook account, which contained "Black nationalist and anti-Semitic" viewpoints, and his crime were exploited by white supremacists in order to push racist and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, claiming Brooks' attack was racially motivated, that he killed his victims specifically because he hated white people, and that Jewish people were attempting to cover up the incident. Law enforcement did not give a motive for the attack.[107][108][109]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Brooks was additionally charged with two counts of bail jumping and two counts of battery (one of which was later dropped) not related to the attack.
  2. ^ Prosecutors withdrew one count of domestic battery.

References

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Waukesha Christmas parade attack
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