LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - An organization familiar to WAVE 3 News viewers once posted a $5,000 bond for the man accused of crashing into and killing a high school cheerleader, WAVE 3 News Troubleshooters have learned.
The Bail Project uses donations to bail people out of jail, and last month, it bailed out Michael Dewitt, who found himself in trouble yet again Monday.
That’s when police said he drove a stolen car the wrong way down busy Dixie Highway when he crashed head-on into another vehicle driven by Madelynn Noel Troutt. Dewitt, 28, was high on drugs at the time, police said, adding that he ran from the scene of the crash, never stopping to help Troutt, who would die a short time later at a hospital.
Officers also said that when they searched the car Dewitt was driving, they found two firearms that had been reported stolen.
Several police sources reached out to WAVE 3 News Troubleshooters on Tuesday, asking to look into Dewitt’s criminal history.
The Commonwealth Attorney’s Office confirmed that Dewitt had been released on that $5,000 bond on several charges on Feb. 17. According to that arrest report, police were responding to a call about a disorderly person when they found a stolen car and Dewitt walking nearby. Police said they recognized him from other encounters, and knew he was wanted on “fresh charges,” the report said. While trying to arrest him, Dewitt allegedly assaulted one of the officers. It took three officers to subdue Dewitt, who later admitted having taken heroin and other drugs, police said. Officers noted he was clearly intoxicated.
They also charged Dewitt with being in possession of a firearm as a convicted felon. WAVE 3 News Troubleshooters are working to confirm those charges.
Prosecutors argued Dewitt would be a danger if released, something not uncommonly heard during a suspect’s arraignment.
District Court Judge Lisa Langford gave Dewitt a $5,000 cash bond, which The Bail Project posted on his behalf, allowing him to roam freely on the streets. Langford had added the condition that he not possess firearms again.
In June 2020, DeWitt was charged with possession of methamphetamine. In that citation report, the officer wrote that they gave him a citation to report to court on a given date, but Dewitt never showed up.
A deeper dive into his history revealed at least 10 more arrests from the time he was 19 and living in the state of Ohio. Again, officers noted that he was constantly in trouble and a habitual drug offender.
Between 2012 and 2019, WAVE 3 News Troubleshooters discovered other charges and convictions for burglary, drugs, driving drunk, breaking and entering and theft, including that of firearms. He also had a history of contempt of court and violation of parole.
The Shelby County Sheriff’s Office is also investigating DeWitt on a series of other potential charges.
Dewitt now faces several new charges related to Troutt’s death, including murder. He’s also charged with operating a vehicle while under the influence of a controlled substance, leaving the scene of an accident, failure to render aid or assist with death or serious injury, receiving stolen property, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, possession of a handgun by a convicted felon and theft by unlawful taking.
He was given a $500,000 bond Tuesday morning during his arraignment.
The Bail Project was part of a Troubleshooter investigation in October that focused on a similar group in Louisville. Based in New York, the non-profit group opened a Louisville chapter in 2018 under the leadership of Shemeka Parrish-Wright, who is running for Louisville Mayor. It’s important to note that that New York-based organization bailed Dewitt out of jail last month.
Between July 1 and Aug. 3 of 2020, at the height of Breonna Taylor protests across Louisville, The Bail Project posted 91 bonds totaling $306,000, according to open records requests filed for that investigation.
According to its website, The Bail Project believes people should not be held in jail only because they can’t afford their bond, and that bonds should not be used as a way to keep them in jail.
The group says that if a judge made the determination a person could be bonded out, by giving them a bail in the first place, then that person should have the right to be free while still being presumed innocent.
The Bail Project told WAVE 3 News at the time that it focuses on helping the accused avoid incarceration by also providing housing, transportation, drug treatments and other needs.
The news that DeWitt had been released on a $5,000 bond infuriated Lois Windhorst, the Regional Director for Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
“When I found out that he had just been released from jail not too long ago on bond, with the record this man has,” Windhorst said, “I was in shock.”
She said Troutt’s death was “100% preventable” had DeWitt never been released.
“What they said in that arraignment that morning has come true,” Windhorst said, “and a family and a community are devastated.”
The Director of Communications with The Bail Project, Camilo Ramirez, sent a statement Tuesday evening addressing the release of Dewitt:
“As you know, we conduct individualized needs assessments with every interview. When our team looked into Mr. Dewitt’s case, they learned he was struggling with addiction to several substances and this was at the root of his cases. Our team waited until he completed detox at the jail before posting the bail and then referred him to Centerstone for counseling and addiction recovery services. Unfortunately, this intervention was not enough to stabilize him. As you know, the city has been fighting a drug epidemic for years, and that’s the larger issue here, not bail. People cycle in and out of the jail while battling addictions and that serves no one at the end of the day. I worry that the focus on who posts bail, whether it is a charity or a family member, distracts from the larger issue of drug addictions, lack of resources, and the public health crisis that drives people like Mr. Dewitt into the system in the first place and leads to tragic events like this.”