From car theft to murder: Bail project’s intervention sparks controversy

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CLAYTON, Mo. – An out-of-state bail reform organization is now in the spotlight, following its actions in helping free a man from jail who is now accused as the Clayton killer.

Monday morning’s Clayton murder is now solved. Police and prosecutors say, with 18-year-old Trenell Johnson in custody. 

Court records say Johnson had already been in custody for allegedly stealing a car, leading police in a pursuit, and using his gun to threaten an officer. Court records further revealed he was freed when an organization called The Bail Project paid $3,000 to get him out.

The Bail Project is based in southern California. It’s not the first time an out-of-town group has freed a criminal suspect prior to a reported repeat of violence.

Docs: Accused Clayton killer pointed gun at cops in March, released on bond

The group claims to have freed nearly 24,000 people since 2019 and has an advisory board with big names like John Legend and Danny Glover.

St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell had this to say during a news conference regarding Trenell Johnson, “I think overall they do good work, but no system is going to be perfect.”

The Bail Project also answered a request for comment from the FOX Files, writing:

“Bail is set by judges as a condition of release, not as a punishment or method to detain. In this case, after considering all the available information, the judge saw fit to reduce the original bond and order electronic monitoring as an additional condition of release. Mr. Johnson’s family could not afford the bail themselves or the hiring of a bail bonds company. At that point, The Bail Project provided bail assistance to the 18-year-old, partly in recognition of his young age and responsibilities as a father.”

Out-of-towners intervening in St. Louis criminal cases is not new. We reported extensively in the FOX Files about cases during the Ferguson uprisings, like an August 2015 shootout that made national news. 

Tyrone Harris Jr. is currently in prison for the shooting after pleading guilty. FOX 2 found out, just prior to his gunfight, he’d been bonded out on a different felony charge by a bail reform group called M.O.R.E. 

Then we learned Josh Williams, caught on our cameras pouring fuel and lighting fires at a QuikTrip had also been bonded out by the group M.O.R.E. Williams is also currently in prison after pleading guilty.

Security officer Mike Dwyer told us, “It’s forcing law enforcement agencies and security companies like us to work harder. Almost going backwards.”

Dwyer works for Praetorian Guard Services, which was founded by a veteran police officer. He added, “Violent people or people who have flourished weapons or threatened police officers, those guys shouldn’t get very much assistance you know.”

Ferguson’s Police Chief, Troy Doyle, also weighed in with a statement to the FOX Files:

“While initiatives like The Bail Project serve a significant purpose in aiding those unable to afford bail, we must also focus on advocating for the victim of crime. Our approach to bail decisions needs to reflect a balance, where the safety and well-being of the community, and the rights of the victims, are held in high regard.”

Count on the FOX Files to follow up, to see what other cases may be impacted.

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