Circuit Judge Stephanie McDonald today imposed a moratorium on placing more Charleston area offenders on electronic monitoring until concerns about the problem-plagued system can be resolved.
Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson requested the move following a three-hour hearing in which numerous gaps and slip-ups were exposed that allowed accused criminals on bail to wander about violating the terms of their release.
“We are just lucky in this community we have not had another disaster” with satellite monitoring, Wilson said.
In one case, a murder suspect was reportedly spotted on the streets of Charleston by his victim’s family while he was supposed to be on strict house arrest. He denied that was the case, but neither he nor prosecutors have been able to get records from his satellite monitoring company to show if he’s telling the truth or not.
In a separate case, records showed another murder defendant was off the tracking grid for 12 days because he monitoring unit’s battery died and no one alerted authorities, prosecutors said.
McDonald was clearly troubled and frustrated by what she heard, as well as assertions by Wilson that bondsmen were playing “an enormous bait and switch” with the facts to avoid scrutiny.
McDonald warned that sanctions are a distinct option if she learns anyone is trying to mislead or play games with the court.
McDonald said she wants to find a way forward and revised procedures for monitoring to avoid a future tragedy. “What I am hearing is that there are not safeguards in place,” she said.
The cases heard today resulted from a review of the monitoring system by Wilson’s office after she grew concerned by lapses she was seeing. Prosecutors have been working to determine just how many people are being monitored and how many companies are in the tracking business.
Wilson said her office still doesn’t have a firm number of offenders being monitored in Charleston and Berkeley counties, but the number is believed to be less than 100.
Prosecutors have asked monitoring companies for records on monitored offenders and have been spot-checking those lists. Over and over, they have found problems, Wilson said.
Wilson said she will do whatever she can to hold monitoring companies responsible if they fail to do their jobs.
Wilson has already requested that the court seize all or part of a $150,000 bond posted for reputed drug dealer Deangelo Rashard Mitchell, who was sent back to jail in July for repeatedly violating the terms of release and staying out until late at night.
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.
Robert Theodore Williams, a lawyer for the bonding company, argued that Jenkins satisfied her requirements by making sure Mitchell appeared in court. The bond money can’t be seized simply because her client didn’t behave himself.
Assistant Solicitor Jim Stack disagreed. And while he has cut bondsmen a break in the past if they acted in good faith, that was not the case here, he said.
McDonald said she wants to know how much time and resources prosecutors had to devote to investigating and resolving the Mitchell matter before deciding just how much of the bond money might be forfeited.
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.
Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556 or Twitter.com/glennsmith5.