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The Bail Project faces wrongful death lawsuit

Dylan McGinnis' suspected killer, Travis Lang, was out of jail — in part — because The Bail Project provided him bail.

INDIANAPOLIS — An Indiana family is suing The Bail Project, accusing it of violating the state's bail laws back in 2021. 

The nonprofit organization provides cash bond for people who can’t afford to get out of jail on their own, but came under heavy scrutiny that year after some of its clients committed violent crimes while out of jail.

Dylan McGinnis was killed by one of The Bail Project’s clients. His suspected killer, Travis Lang, was out of jail — in part — because The Bail Project provided him bail.

In a lawsuit filed Monday, McGinnis' family accuses the group of being in violation of Indiana bail law at the time of his death, because it was not "qualified and/or licensed as a bail agent." The wrongful death lawsuit also accuses the group of failing to properly vet clients or train staff.

The lawsuit states, "The Bail Project, Inc. knew or should have known that they were creating a situation that Lang could and would avail himself of the opportunity to commit a violent crime against McGinnis and/or the community at large."

Credit: Nikki Sterling
Dylan McGinnis

The Bail Project sent the following statement concerning the lawsuit:

"Mr. McGinnis’ death is undeniably tragic, however, in this case, the lawsuit is misguided. Our association with Mr. Lang occurred in January 2021, after we, alongside a commercial bail agent, posted bail on charges that Mr. Lang faced at that time. In July 2021, Mr. Lang was rearrested on a misdemeanor and a judge approved his release contingent on him paying bail that was set at $150, which was then paid for by his family or friends. Thus, The Bail Project was not the last entity to bail Mr. Lang out - it was 10 months and two bonds between the time of The Bail Project’s involvement with Mr. Lang and the death of Mr. McGinnis.

Our work as a national charitable bail organization is to post bail for someone only after a judge approves that individual’s release on the condition that they pay some monetary amount that they could not otherwise afford. Similar lawsuits against The Bail Project have been dismissed, with courts determining that we are not liable for actions taken by individuals after they are released pretrial. In any forum, we will stand behind and vigorously defend our core mission, which is to help the most destitute Americans by eliminating reliance on cash bail and demonstrating that a more humane, equitable, and effective pretrial system is possible."

In 2021, Indiana did not regulate who could pay a full cash bond, meaning the defendant, a family member or stranger could pay a cash bond. Lawmakers and the police union started scrutinizing the group after some of its clients were accused of committing violent crimes while out on bail.

Nikki Sterling, Dylan’s mother, supported the passage of a 2022 law requiring charitable bail organizations to be registered. The new law also limited groups like The Bail Project from helping people accused of a "crime of violence."

The Bail Project is currently suing the state, arguing the law is "unconstitutional."

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