Growing electronic-monitoring program keeps tabs on criminals' whereabouts

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Growing electronic-monitoring program keeps tabs on criminals' whereabouts

By ALLISON STICE
astice@islandpacket.com
Published Saturday, September 1, 2012   |  929 Words  |  

It's Bill Normoyle's job to keep criminal defendants who wear electronic-monitoring ankle bracelets on their toes.

So the Offender Management Services supervisor has devised a little game -- he calls them on the phone to remind them he's tracking their every move.

"On the first or second day they're in the program, I'll make up a reason to call them up and I'll just throw out a, 'Hey, what'd you get in Target today?'" Normoyle said. "They'll say, 'What do you mean?' And I'll say, 'Well, you were in Target for half an hour today -- what'd you buy?'

"Dead silence. Shock. And then they know that I know, and it makes a big difference."

Since January, Normoyle, a retired New York City police lieutenant, has been responsible for keeping tabs on defendants who wear ankle bracelets. He works out of the 14th Circuit Solicitor's Office after Beaufort County Council approved a contract with his company last year.

The home-detention program he monitors is an alternative to jail for some low-risk, nonviolent adult and juvenile offenders. For some, that means a curfew. For others, it's house arrest.

It can also be used to enforce a judge's order for defendants to stay away from a victim or to keep their distance from a co-defendant in an upcoming criminal trial.

At the program's launch, it was important to solicitor Duffie Stone that the technology tracking the defendants be kept in his office.

"That way, when a judge tells a defendant, 'You're under house arrest,' we can make sure the defendant complies," Stone said. "If they don't, we can go back to the judge with objective evidence that they've violated the bond and put them back in jail."

Before the monitoring program, Stone had a harder time proving offenders had broken the conditions of their bonds or sentencing. He had to rely on eye witnesses who were willing to come forward. Now, it's as easy as asking Normoyle to pull up information on a computer screen.

Stone said he also didn't want electronic monitoring to be the domain of bail bondsmen, as it was before the new home-detention program.

It still works that way in other areas.

In Charleston, the problems with that system were revealed in the case of Deangelo Rashard Mitchell, who is accused of dealing drugs. He got out of jail on bond after authorities were assured he would be tracked with satellite monitoring. But Mitchell, accused of forcing his brother to eat a fatal dose of cocaine to get rid of evidence last year, repeatedly violated his house arrest. When the monitoring company alerted Mitchell's bail bondswoman that he was out at all hours of the night, nothing was done, according to court testimony reported by The (Charleston) Post and Courier.

"Before, there wasn't a lot of electronic monitoring going on, and when it was going on, it was being monitored by bail bonding companies," Stone said. "The (Mitchell) example shows how that can go bad. I wasn't comfortable that we were receiving all the information from bail bondsmen that we should have been."

Now, it's up to Normoyle. He starts his day checking what his defendants have been up to for the past 12 hours -- although he would have received a text alert on his cellphone had major violations occurred. By clicking one button, a red dot indicating the path and speed of a defendant comes up.

With another click, Normoyle can see what they see with a street-level view via Google Earth. Green zones show where they're allowed to be. Red zones indicate where they must not go.

The program is paid for by the defendants through a monthly fee, according to Offender Management Services. Magistrate Court administrator Stephanie Garst said judges consider the fee part of the defendants' bonds and have started using the option more often.

"Generally, assistant solicitors will request electronic monitoring at the bond hearing, and the judge will take it into consideration," Garst said. "The magistrates see it as a good, cost-effective way to keep track of nonviolent defendants."

It's given Stone the chance to let defendants know he's watching them, too.

Stone likes to tell the story of tapping a juvenile on the shoulder in court and telling him about how back in his day, physical-education teachers forced their students to exercise during gym class.

That's because the technology tracking the defendant showed not only when he was in school, but what class he was in. During gym, Stone had seen the juvenile's red dot going around the track at 1 mph -- in other words, walking instead of running.

"He was quite taken aback that the solicitor knew he was walking around the track in gym class," Stone said. "The technology is impressive, but the accountability is what we were shooting for -- making the offender accountable for the bond or the judge's order that they're under.

"I expected, and I think it worked, that everyone in the courtroom who heard me say that knew we were watching."

Follow reporter Allison Stice at twitter.com/LCBlotter.

Related content:

County council considers home detention, electronic monitoring devices for nonviolent offenders, March 26, 2011