$200K spent to post bail for Grand Rapids riot suspects

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Lansing-based bail fund says it has spent $200,000 to get 11 Grand Rapids riot suspects released from jail pending trial.

That’s nearly double the $120,000 Target 8 first reported last week.

In an Instagram post over the weekend, the Michigan Solidarity Bail Fund said it’s now “bailed out eleven protesters and put over $200,000 toward pretrial freedom.”

According to Target 8’s review of online court records, the most recent suspect to be bailed out was Alexandria (Ally) Lyons, 22, formerly of Grandville.

On June 30, MSBF posted $40,000 cash to secure Lyons’ release as she awaits trial on charges of inciting a riot and malicious destruction of property.

A mug shot of Alexandria Lyons from the Kent County jail. (June 2, 2020)

Lyons allegedly livestreamed parts of the May 30 riot on social media, including the destruction of windows at 82 Ionia, the building that houses the Kent County Prosecutor’s Office.

It’s not the first time a social media post has led to criminal charges for Lyons. When she was 16 and a student at Grandville High School, Lyons pleaded guilty to an indecent exposure charge after she posted evidence online of an encounter with another teen. Her criminal record also includes a conviction for drug possession.

After Lyons’ arrest in the days following the Grand Rapids riot, she posted bond through J & J Bail Bonds. But when her co-signer changed his mind and backed out, J & J told Target 8 it revoked Lyon’s bond and re-arrested her.  

One week later, on June 30, a representative of MSBF arrived at the Kent County jail to post bail for Lyons.

On Instagram, the MSBF thanked the “tens of thousands of people who have donated to support this work.”

“More than a month has passed since the police killing of George Floyd kicked off an uprising that rapidly spread across the country,” the post read. “We continue to coordinate with and learn from other bail funds across the country, and, like them, we want to be a resource in support of movements for justice with the long-term goal of abolishing the cash bail system along with the need for projects like ours. Pretrial detention should not exist. None of the people we’ve supported have been convicted on any charge.”

MSBF went on to say that it would continue to respond to requests for assistance “both in the context of the demonstrations on May 30 and their aftermath, and in the broader environment that shaped the rebellion, where the racialized and gendered violence of the capitalist state disrupts people’s lives every day.”

Online, the Lansing-based bail fund describes itself as “a small collective with members from around the state who are engaged in anti-prison, anti-racist, and anti-capitalist organizing…”

Community bail funds across the country have gained attention amid arrests at protests in cities nationwide, including Minneapolis. The Minnesota Freedom Fund reported donations of more than $30 million in the weeks following George Floyd’s death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.

“We are grateful for the overwhelming support to bail our people out,” a representative of the Minnesota bail fund wrote on its website. “Over 900,000 people from all over the world have donated more than $30 million to MFF. We are committed to being transparent about funds raised and spent. We are committed to being accountable to our Black-led movement partners, knowing that funds were donated to support the movement for Black liberation and abolition of racist policing and pretrial detention.”

Target 8 reached out to representatives of the Michigan bail fund, but no one responded.

In an effort to gain more insight on the group, Target 8 investigators also requested copies of its tax filings through the IRS and MSBF itself. We have yet to receive the documents.  

When Target 8 visited the home of an MSBF representative in Lansing, she declined comment but said to research the work of Miriame Kaba to gain context for the fund’s work.  

Miriame Kaba is a New York-based social justice advocate and organizer who pushes for the abolition of the prison industrial complex.

In an email exchange with Target 8, Kaba declined an interview due to time constraints, but said she was not familiar with the Michigan bail fund. She also referred us to the National Bail Fund Network, which describes itself as “a formation of over sixty community-led bail and bond funds that are part of campaigns to end pretrial and immigration detention.”

State Rep. David LaGrand, D-Grand Rapids, has long pushed for cash bail reform in Michigan. He told Target 8 he’s glad more conversations are happening surrounding the issue, but wishes the increased donations could be used to fight for new laws aimed at fixing the unjust cash bail system overall.

“Anything that violates principles of equal justice is a bad idea and cash bond fundamentally does that,” LaGrand said in a Zoom interview with Target 8.

LaGrand is pushing a package of bills that would ensure pretrial incarceration is based on the level of risk a defendant poses to society, not on his or her ability to pay cash bail.

“Whether you agree with the political agenda of the people who are (bonding out riot suspects), the fact of the matter is cash bond is a broken system that is not compatible with the aims of justice,” he said.