Tragic Shooting in Northwest Austin

What Yesterday’s Tragedy Tells Us About the Justice System

Shooting Suspect and former TCSO Detective Stephen Broderick
Yesterday, a tragedy in Northwest Austin caught media attention as there were reports of an active shooter at large and 3 fatalities. Unfortunately, these reports were correct, and three people were found dead of gunshot wounds. Suspect Stephen Broderick was found and arrested today.

Broderick, a 41 year old former TCSO detective was awaiting trial on a charge of sexual assault of a minor. On June 12, 2020, his bail was set at $50,000. He posted bond and was released. He then sent lewd photos to his (now ex-)wife, violating a condition of bail. Because of this, less than a month after release, the DA moved to increase bond to $100,000. Instead of increasing bond, the Judge imposed a no contact order between Broderick and any member of his wife’s household. Additionally, a condition of his release was that he wear an ankle monitor. This condition was removed 142 days after it was put on.

There were some statements made that – in the context of what happened – are truly chilling. Broderick’s daughter was one of the victims. In a request for the protective order, Broderick’s ex-wife states: “Stephen has prior military experience and is SWAT trained. If he wanted to hurt someone he would know how.” His daughter, another victim of this tragic event states: “[N]ow that he’s out, I don’t feel safe. I’m afraid that to him, a protective order will be just a piece of paper.”

On April 18, 2021, Broderick killed his ex-wife, his daughter, and her boyfriend. Completely senseless and heartbreaking.

Public reaction on the Austin subreddit was understandably extreme. Let’s examine it a little closer.

u/Th0r1337 says: “no bail for child rape. period!”

This is an understandable emotional reaction. We want to see child molesters go to prison for a long time, not back on the streets. But even a moment’s reflection should give pause. Bail is given to people ACCUSED of a crime, not CONVICTED. If we follow Th0r1337’s recommendation, there would be many innocent people sitting in jail for years without the benefit of facing their accusers or a public trial.

u/Isspam says: “How had there not been a trial for such a crime almost a year later? Why on earth were the options ‘imprison potentially innocent man or let potentially guilty man walk’. If they had enough evidence to charge him surely they had enough to try him? And with such a serious charge, doesn’t everyone, including him, have a right to a speedy trial so it can be resolved? I get this was during Covid but … This length of time to resolve a serious felony, in one direction or the other, seems deeply wrong. If the person is innocent, they still suffer irreparable harm waiting for trial, unable to move on with their life. And if they’re guilty, delayed justice puts….well….other people at risk.”

Here, we are getting to the heart of the matter and can begin to see the tough spot that Judges (and prosecutors and defense attorneys) are in when it comes to a serious felony charge. One important point –whether this is during Covid or not – a year is a completely normal amount of time for a case to be pending while the Defendant is out of custody. The Covid pandemic will stretch that amount of time much longer for years to come, as the backlog of defendants awaiting trial is immense.

U/Isspam correctly points out that a delay injures innocents who are falsely accused as well as all of us because of the delay in justice if the defendant is guilty. Perversely, the actual guilty defendants benefit the most from delay.

The current Right to Speedy Trial is inadequate in practice. A Speedy Trial Right with teeth – that is to say a real count down timer with a hard deadline, coupled with the resources given to the Justice System to keep up with it, would solve many issues. It would benefit the innocent and society as a whole. It should go without saying that trials must resume.

Cash Bail

Another very important topic here is cash bail. Why is it that Broderick – accused of an especially heinous crime – was released, while others charged with nonviolent felonies like distribution of a controlled substance remain in jail? Some might focus on Broderick’s history as a Law Enforcement Officer, and while this might have some merit, the more obvious answer is that Broderick has the $5,000 necessary to post bond, while many charged with drug crimes do not.

This is not justice. This is “pay to play”. This is a rigged system.

I’m not saying the Judge was wrong to set a $50,000 bail for Mr. Broderick’s release. Hindsight is 20/20 and as discussed earlier, the Judge is facing a difficult balancing act when faced with someone accused – not convicted – during a time when there is no access to a trial. However, the amount of money in someone’s bank account should have no bearing on his release. Period.

Bail is set for two reasons 1) To ensure return to court. 2) To protect the community (with bail conditions such as the ankle monitor in the present case). That’s it. There are many other methods to ensure return to court that do not require an up front cash payment. To maintain cash bond is to systematically allow people with wealth to have access to justice that others do not. This is unpalatable in today’s society. The reforms that took place in Harris County gave hope for those of us anticipating change. This movement fizzled before it arrived, and we are left with the same broken system.

Often in these cases, the emotional cries to “END BAIL FOR EVERYONE” are the voices that are heard over all the others. It is my hope that a more nuanced discussion can arise – one that takes into account the difficult balancing act between safety and liberty rights for those who are accused, but have not been convicted of any crime.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *