If you really needed another example of the insanity of New York’s bail laws, all you have to do is look at the case of Michael Palacios, who was arrested and charged with criminal mischief and menacing in connection with his rampage in a Lower East Side McDonald’s and then released without bail the next day.
Palacios, who was allegedly incensed when a woman spurned him in the McDonalds, is seen on cell phone video being pushed and hit by three young men. When the hitting stops, he calmly walks over to his bicycle, reaches into his backpack and pulls out a hatchet. He then proceeds to break tables and a glass partition and then slams the weapon into the wall. Next he angrily walks about the store, menacing people with the hatchet until he calmly gets on his bike and leaves.
Police arrest him shortly thereafter. The entire incident is captured on video. It really is terrifying to watch if you imagine yourself in that store. Palacios is arrested for felony criminal mischief (over $250 damage), misdemeanor criminal possession of a weapon and three counts of misdemeanor menacing.
When the case got to Manhattan DA Bragg’s office, the felony criminal mischief was reduced to a misdemeanor, apparently because Manhattan prosecutors didn’t think the damage done or the havoc wrought was worth treating as a felony. The DA also dismissed the misdemeanor menacing charges, possibly because the victims were not available or uncooperative, even though the hatchet toting menacing by Palacios, and the obvious fear on the faces of the victims, is abundantly clear on the video.
What Bragg’s office did was outrageous, but here’s the rub: Even had the DA not lowered the charges, Palacios STILL would have been released without bail.
You see, everything that Palacios is seen doing on that video, from smashing plate glass partitions, breaking tables, chopping his hatchet into walls, and waving it at patrons is a non-bailable offense. The video of his activity only lasts a few minutes, but under New York law, he could have done that all day long and then done the same thing at a Burger King or pizza parlor down the street, smashing the windows of every store he passed, waving the hatchet at every passerby and a judge STILL could not have set bail on him. At his arraignment on these charges, he could have said to the judge I can buy a bigger hatchet and I’m gonna do the same thing when I get out. And a judge STILL couldn’t set bail on him. He could have had a record of 30 prior convictions, but as long as none of them were pending when he did this, a judge STILL could not have set bail on him, because under New York law, a judge cannot consider public safety or risk of re-offending when setting bail.
That’s one of the many problems with the “bail reform” laws. Every criminal mischief is different, but the law treats them all the same, regardless of the defendant’s record or the individual facts. Waving a hatchet around a McDonald’s and destroying property is treated the same as keying a car. They are both criminal mischief and both non-bailable. But one is far more terrifying to the community and infinitely more capable of escalating into tragedy.
Gov. Hochul and legislative leaders keep saying that they “fixed” the bail laws and dealt with recidivists. That is simply NOT TRUE. Until New York judges are allowed to look at a defendant’s criminal history and the nature of their crime and use that to consider whether it is probable that the defendant will commit another crime or be a danger to the community, solving New York’s crime problems will be impossible.
Jim Quinn was executive district attorney in the Queens DA’s office, where he served for 42 years.