Criminals on GPS ‘run amok’ in Marion County

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — GPS bracelets are supposed to help law enforcement keep a watchful eye on criminals and avoid jail overcrowding. But I-Team 8 discovered offenders on GPS, or home detention, often try to beat the system.

“It happens a lot,” Elliott Payne of Marion County Community Corrections said.

Justin Cherry, a criminal on a GPS ankle bracelet from a robbery charge, is accused of committing 11 robberies at different businesses during an eight-day period in late January into early February. IMPD provided I-Team 8 with surveillance video from one of the alleged robberies at a Speedway on Holt Road from Feb. 5.

Cherry’s alleged crime spree is illustrated below.

Another man, Chris Whitis, was on GPS for burglary when Beech Grove Police said surveillance video and his GPS bracelet connected him to a crime scene at Ardizzone Enterprises. Whitis is accused of breaking into Ardizzone Enterprises in the middle of the night when he wasn’t supposed to leave home after 5 p.m. because of his home detention.

Burglarized twice, owner Tony Ardizzone said he had $30,000 worth of tools taken.

“With just GPS they are running amok throughout the county.”— Superior Court Judge Bill Nelson

GPS tracked Whitis to Ardizzone. Then GPS and police records show he stopped to sell the tools at pawn shops. Afterward, he stayed for hours at a friend’s house. According to the probable cause affidavit from June 2013, he left a message at 2 a.m. for Community Corrections saying “he had to leave his home to take his grandfather to the emergency.”

Apparently, no one from Community Corrections checked his middle of the night story. But police did.

“They can monitor the people on home detention,” Ardizzone said. “The question is, do they?”

Beech Grove Police Capt. Bob Mercuri had similar concerns.

“We can get good evidence for the cases after the fact,” he said. “Our problem is it seems so often we are the ones notifying the GPS monitoring people.”

When police traced the Ardizzone burglary to Whitis they requested his GPS printout. It highlights a bread crumb trail he left behind.

“We often wonder if we don’t notify them of these violations, would it have ever been found?” Mercuri said.

Every movement of the 3,000 Marion County offenders on GPS, home detention and alcohol monitoring is tracked and traced every 60 seconds. It’s a multi-million dollar contract for 3M, whose contractors monitor Marion County offenders at a site in Chicago. Each probation officer is in charge of 140 offenders they can also track on computers.

So, what happens if someone being monitored by GPS is somewhere they shouldn’t be?

“We are notified depending on the risk level. If they are high risk, we are notified immediately,” said Payne, from Community Corrections.

According to the contract, low-risk violations can take a day or more for GPS dispatchers to notify probation. Whether they are caught in violation is one issue. Timing of notification is another.

Whitis is a high-risk offender, but court records show it was three weeks after the burglary before Community Corrections realized he violated the rules of his GPS.

“We have a court team that goes to court and they are in court all day,” Payne said of those who are in violation of GPS rules.

Marion Superior Court Judge Bill Nelson said he sees a lot of GPS violations in court.

“With just GPS they are running amok throughout the county,” he said. “Every Friday morning I see 50 violations.”

While suspects are arrested for crimes, it’s the separate charge of violating the rules of the GPS that Judge Nelson said is difficult to punish.

“I had a case … set for three violation hearings and nobody from Community Corrections showed up for any of them,” Nelson said.

Although Nelson’s court stays busy with violations, that doesn’t include offenders who aren’t caught.

How many violations are there? Community Corrections says they don’t keep track of that in what they called “normal course of business.” They also do not keep track of how many are wanted for escape or on open warrants.

Community Corrections does track how many hours they spend in court handling GPS violations; the department said it’s 100 hours per week.

I-Team 8 asked repeatedly to see inside the monitoring facility in Chicago. 3M stopped responding to requests.

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