Local officials skirt questions on criminal monitoring

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Two months after I-Team 8 exposed a gap in safety of tracking criminals, questions about why it keeps happening remain unanswered by city and county officials.

GPS ankle bracelets let officials track where criminals are at all times. If criminals are not where they are supposed to be, they face consequences including criminal charges of escape. But in some cases, those penalties aren’t being handed down to offenders.

Q/A from the Indiana Department of Corrections

How many are on GPS?
On average, 310 – 320 (daily count.)

How many have committed other crimes while on home detention or GPS?
46 total; 7 for failure to register, 2 D felony sexual battery, 2 misdemeanor public indecency, the rest were non – sex offenses.

What company is utilized by the state to track offenders?
3M.

How often were you contacted in the last year and last five years about offenders in violation?
In the past year there were 8500. This can be a number of violations, including low battery alerts or being a minute late coming home. As far as cut straps we experienced 33 in 2013.

How many are wanted on escape from ankle bracelet, open warrants?
Currently, 1.

What happens if the parolee removes or disarms their tracking device?
We request, and the parole board issues a violation warrant. This has happened in EVERY instance where we could not quickly ( inside of an hour)locate the offender.

Source: Indiana Department of Correction. Data from the past year.

‘WHAT THEY KNEW’

On Washington Street in downtown Indianapolis, GPS ankle bracelets are easily spotted. In Marion County the jail is often full. So Community Corrections is where some are slapped with an ankle bracelet that is supposed to track their every move.

I-Team 8 spoke to an offender who is on home detention for a non-violent crime. For the purposes of this story, he’ll be referred to as Sam. He asked I-Team 8 to conceal his identity.

“There are people who abuse it. I sit down there every month and hear it,” Sam said. “I’ve seen somebody different every time I went down there.”

With the high turnover rate of case managers, he says criminals know they aren’t always being watched. As a result, people go back to old behaviors which could, according to court records, include robbery and selling drugs.

Zach Catron, who was on home detention after a felony drug conviction in Marion County, was arrested a few months later in February, accused of drug dealing in Johnson County. But he wasn’t charged with violating his home detention. He admitted to police when he was busted he was dealing drugs out of his house while he was on home detention. According to the probable cause affidavit, when police asked how long he had been selling heroin, he said “about six months.”

When I-Team 8 went to Catron’s house to ask him about GPS, the person inside didn’t answer, simply turning down the TV and looking through the blinds briefly. However, according to the probable cause affidavit his girlfriend was asked by police how many people per day come in to buy heroin or methamphetamine from Catron and she said about 6 to 10 different people.

Had Community Corrections noticed Catron was violating home detention by allegedly committing more crime, the February drug bust could have put him back behind bars. Instead, months passed and a police report indicates he continued dealing drugs. He went to jail only after a Center Grove sophomore died of a drug overdose in May. Catron was accused of supplying the drugs. When he was arrested police found drugs and seven guns, including an automatic assault rifle.

SKIRTING THE SYSTEM

I-Team 8′s original investigation found some offenders know how to skirt the system, committing crimes even while tracked on GPS. One of those suspects is accused of committing 11 robberies while on GPS. I-Team 8 learned Community Corrections director John Dieter wrote to an official after the report “with Channel 8″ he was “very disappointed” his staff failed to appear for court hearings and “for the other issues in last nights’ report I am very disappointed in ME.”

gps-webI-Team 8 spent months repeatedly trying to get answers for this story. Citing public safety concerns, I-Team 8 was denied basic answers like the number of employees tracking offenders. Community Corrections repeatedly wouldn’t respond and directed all of I-Team 8′s questions to the city attorney. They refused to answer, sending us back down to Community Corrections. We also tried questioning the deputy controller, the sheriff and a deputy prosecutor.

JUDGE IGNORED

It’s not just I-Team 8 being ignored. A judge’s order was too. In May, Lamar Bigsbee, convicted for felony theft, was ordered onto GPS. Sources tell I-Team 8 on a Monday, Marion County Community Corrections told him they were too busy to fit his ankle bracelet and to come back Wednesday. He ran free for two days, despite the judge’s order. Sam says the problems are leading to more crime.

“Look at all the people getting robbed and everything like that. That’s just part of the system though. And it’s a messed up system,” said Sam.

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REAL TRACKING

About 24,000 criminals are wanted on open warrants in Marion County — enough to fill the seats of Bankers Life Fieldhouse and half of Victory Field. It’s unclear how many of those are on GPS or home detention. Cutting the ankle strap could potentially lead to charges of escape. But Community Corrections says it doesn’t track that. The state does track it. The Indiana Department of Corrections gave answers immediately. The county and state use the same contractor to monitor, but the county didn’t provide speedy answers to I-Team 8.

Meanwhile, Brian Barton — former director of Marion County Community Corrections — is now the executive director of Emerge. That’s the company subcontracted to fit bracelets and help track. He wanted to talk to I-Team 8. Community Corrections wouldn’t grant permission.

One judge says it will only get worse this month, predicting Community Corrections will be hammered due to a new criminal sentencing law.

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