Last year, before she was vice president, Kamala Harris used her social media accounts to encourage donations to a Minnesota nonprofit “to help post bail” for individuals arrested in the state while protesting the death of George Floyd.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham twisted those facts to claim “she actually bailed out rioters,” one of whom, he said, “went back to the streets and broke somebody’s head open.”
We found no evidence that happened.
Graham made those remarks during a Feb. 14 interview on “Fox News Sunday,” in which he discussed the Senate vote the day before to acquit former President Donald Trump on a charge of inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol. Graham said Trump’s second impeachment trial, which the South Carolina senator called “a joke” based on “hearsay upon hearsay,” had “opened Pandora’s box.”
“If you use this model, I don’t know how Kamala Harris doesn’t get impeached if the Republicans take over the House, because she actually bailed out rioters and one of the rioters went back to the streets and broke somebody’s head open,” Graham said.
His office didn’t respond to our request for supporting documentation.
As we wrote in September, Harris asked her Twitter and Facebook followers in early June to “chip in” to the Minnesota Freedom Fund “to help post bail for those protesting on the ground in Minnesota.” The nonprofit pays the bail amount — which is set by a judge — for individuals who would otherwise be unable to afford to secure their release from jail while they await their day in court.
A spokesperson for the vice president declined to say whether Harris donated herself.
But thanks, in part, to Harris and other public figures who promoted the organization, MFF “raised nearly $40 million in donations from over one million individual donors in 2020,” Greg Lewin, the organization’s interim executive director, told us in an email.
Lewin said “over half a million has been spent” on bail for people who were arrested while protesting against racism and police brutality, including the killing of Floyd, an unarmed Black man who died after a white police officer knelt on his neck during a May 25 arrest in Minneapolis. (The now former officer, Derek Chauvin, has been charged with second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s death.)
He also said MFF “set aside $1.5 million to help cover costs for legal representation and related support for those fighting their cases.” But most of those who were arrested while protesting “weren’t detained and instead were given citations then released, have been released with no bail, or held with no bail,” MFF has said.
It’s true that MFF posted bail for some people who were accused of rioting, including 27-year-old Jaleel Stallings of St. Paul, who was charged with firing multiple shots at SWAT officers patrolling in an unmarked vehicle in Minneapolis on May 30.
According to the criminal complaint filed by the Hennepin County Attorney’s office, one bullet “sparked and ricocheted in front of officers,” though no one was injured by the shots.
We are not aware, however, of any “rioters” MFF assisted who “went back to the streets and broke somebody’s head open,” as Graham claimed.
The senator may have been referencing Lionel Timms, a 32-year-old Minneapolis man, whom MFF bailed out of jail in late July, after he was arrested and charged with assaulting a passenger on a bus. Timms was arrested again on Aug. 14 and charged with third-degree assault for allegedly punching and kicking a man in an alley, leaving the victim with a fractured skull and a brain injury.
But neither of his arrests was related to the demonstrations Harris mentioned on social media; so he was not one of the protesters whom she asked the public to help.
In an Aug. 25 statement, Lewin said the group was “deeply saddened and troubled” by the news about Timms, whom Lewin argued was not given the “support he needed to safely come back to the community,” such as housing.
Lewin said the incident showed: “It’s clear that we need to take steps to strengthen our internal procedures for supporting those we bail out, renew our commitment to listen to the communities directly impacted by our efforts, and look for concrete ways of improving our internal procedures.”
The nonprofit says it believes everyone is innocent until proven guilty and the nature of an alleged crime does not factor into its decision to pay bail.
“Nearly half the people we pay bail for have had their case completely dismissed, suggesting there was never a case for the arrest or charge to begin with,” MFF says in an FAQ section on its website. “Therefore, if a judge has decided that someone can be released so long as they can afford the price, we will pay that fee if we can afford it. That is how we will support an end to a pretrial system that punishes poverty and creates a two-tiered system for those who have not been convicted of a crime.”
President Joe Biden and Harris also campaigned on ending cash bail and replacing it with a “fair” pretrial system without bias or discrimination.
Update, Feb. 17: After this story was published, Graham’s office responded. A spokesperson emailed us links to news articles and videos that said Harris “supported,” “talked up” and “promoted” MFF. One of the articles the spokesperson emailed also said that Lionel Timms had been bailed out by MFF before he was charged with committing a second physical assault. As we noted, Timms’ prior arrest was unrelated to either a protest or riot.
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