Electronic tracking devices for suspects out on bail face scrutiny
Reputed drug dealer Deangelo Rashard Mitchell got out of jail on a $150,000 bond in January after authorities were assured that the North Charleston man’s every movement would be tracked with satellite monitoring.
But Mitchell, who was accused of coercing his brother to eat a fatal dose of cocaine last year, repeatedly blew off his house arrest and went all over the place at all hours of the night, prosecutors said.
What’s more, the monitoring company tracking his movements suspected that he was out selling drugs, but when the company alerted his bail bondswoman, Frances Jenkins, nothing was done, according to court testimony Thursday.
“I told her he was possibly out there doing drug transactions. She replied ‘Well, that’s how he makes a living,’?” testified Jim Robinson, owner of Robinson GPS Monitoring.
“I said ‘Well, are you going to pick him up? ‘She said ‘No.’?”
Saying she was stunned by the lack of diligence in this case, Circuit Judge Stephanie McDonald revoked Mitchell’s bail Thursday for “repeated, repeated, repeated violations” and ordered him jailed. McDonald said she wanted to put bail bonding companies on notice that changes are in the works and that they better start taking electronic monitoring a lot more seriously.
Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson agreed, and said she thinks the Mitchell case is just the tip of the iceberg. That’s why she has launched a review of the current criminal defendants on satellite monitoring to look for possible violations.
Her office already has found some problems, including one bonding company that cut off court-ordered monitoring for nine days because the defendant didn’t pay his bill for the service, Wilson said.
Actions like that put the public at risk, give victims a false sense of security and undercut the good intentions of judges, she said.
“It’s a disturbing situation, and it’s not fair to the victims, it’s not fair to judges and it’s not fair to us,” she said. “The technology is fantastic. It’s the human component that’s the issue.”
History of problems
This isn’t the first time authorities have questioned the effectiveness of the electronic tracking, which is run by private companies and has had repeated problems over the years.
As far back as 2002, prosecutors were calling the system “a sham.” And in 2006, area magistrates temporarily suspended placing defendants on monitoring after a Folly Beach rape suspect on house arrest was accused of sexually assaulting another woman while wearing a tracking device.
Wilson said her office is still trying to determine how many criminal defendants are on satellite monitoring in Charleston and Berkeley counties, but the number is believed to be less than 100.
She also wants to know just how many companies offer the tracking service. Robinson, who has been in the business for years, said he is not even sure how many competitors he has.
Prosecutors credited Robinson, a former police officer who is also a bail bondsman, with alerting authorities to problems with Mitchell around the same time the suspect’s ex-girlfriend shared stories of his many violations.
Claims of ignorance
Mitchell, 23, was out on bail and awaiting trial on a cocaine distribution charge when he was arrested by North Charleston police in November on a drug-trafficking offense. While in the back seat of a police car, Mitchell allegedly encouraged his younger brother to eat a large amount of cocaine to destroy some of the evidence, police said.
His brother, 20-year-old Wayne Joshua Mitchell, had a seizure and died less than an hour later. Police then charged Deangelo Mitchell with manslaughter.
Mitchell told the judge Thursday that no one told him he was on house arrest when he was released from a jail in January and outfitted with a satellite monitor, which he paid $240 a week to maintain.
He said neither Jenkins nor the monitoring company told him he was violating the terms of his release when he ventured out. In fact, he said, Robinson’s workers told him he was doing just fine.
“No one ain’t never told me I was in violation of my monitor,” he said.
Jenkins, who put up the money to secure Mitchell’s freedom, also claimed ignorance of the parameters of her client’s release, saying she never received any paperwork spelling out the terms. “I don’t even understand how the monitoring works,” she said.
Jenkins acknowledged that Robinson’s staff called her on a couple of occasions to say Mitchell was staying out too late. She said she called Mitchell and told him he needed to “tighten up” and stay off of the streets. He seemed to get the message, she said.
“It’s never been like it was a serious situation where we needed to go get him and put him back in jail,” she said.
Robinson testified that he and his staff warned her and Mitchell repeatedly about his failure to abide buy the terms of his house arrest. Over and over, Mitchell ventured miles from his North Charleston home to the East Side of Charleston and other spots, often staying out until 2 a.m., he said.
Robinson said his company urged Jenkins to dump Mitchell back in jail.
“It got to where there was just no compliance,” he said. “It was very obvious. ... It was a daily violation.”
Robinson also said all the parties involved were informed up front of the parameters and responsibilities of Mitchell’s release, and required to sign off on that.
Assistant Solicitor Culver Kidd also questioned how Mitchell’s girlfriend could be so intimately familiar with the requirements of his release if he and his bondsman were so in the dark.
McDonald said their claims of ignorance strained the bounds of credulity, and she was stunned by “the absolute blatant disregard” that allowed his violations to go unaddressed for so long. She ordered Mitchell back to jail, and deputies quickly led him away in handcuffs.
McDonald is now looking to draft revisions that clarify the monitoring guidelines and responsibilities for the service.
The companies now offering the service likely deserve a chance to show whether they can improve, Wilson said. But it may be that monitoring should be handled by the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office or the county’s consolidated dispatch system to ensure greater accountability, she said.
The bonding companies have a disincentive to report violations because it costs them money if their clients go back to jail, Wilson said. Some companies do the right thing anyway, but others do not, she said.
Robinson agreed, and said he favors stricter guidelines. He has run into several occasions where fellow bonding companies have failed to take action when he informed them of offenders ignoring the rules. “They just don’t care.”
Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556 or Twitter.com/glennsmith5.