Prosecutors investigating problems with satellite monitoring of defendants

Frances Jenkins, above, testifies in a Charleston County courtroom Thursday about the case of DeAngelo Mitchell. Mitchell was accused of violating his bond. (Brandon Geier/WCIV)

By Natalie

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- Inside a Charleston County Courtroom Thursday DeAngelo Mitchell, who's accused of coercing his brother to eat cocaine, was led away in handcuffs.

Mitchell's brother, Wayne, died after he ingested the drug last November when the pair had been detained by police and were in the back of a police squad car. Investigators say Mitchell was hiding the cocaine on his body when they say he convinced his brother to eat it to avoid being caught with the drugs.

After his brothers death, he was charged with involuntary manslaughter. Now he's been accused of violating his bond conditions.{}

Mitchell was supposed to be on house arrest, according to a court order, but instead, prosecutors say he was out on Charleston's streets as late as 2 a.m. on several occasions. Mitchell claims he wasn't aware of his bond conditions.

"No one ever notified me," Mitchell said in court.

Mitchell's bondswoman took the stand Thursday. Frances Jenkins says she didn't even have a copy of the judge's order detailing what Mitchell wasn't allowed to do.

"There's so much paperwork that we don't get as bondsmen. There are just a lot of things that are left in open spaces, seriously," Jenkins told the judge.

Jenkins says the GPS monitoring company tracking Mitchell notified her of his violations at least three times since his November arrest and says she called Mitchell and warned him about staying out late.{}

"It's never been like a serious situation and we needed to get him and put him back in jail right now. It's never been that tone," she testified.

Circuit Court Judge Stephanie McDonald disagreed and said she was shocked by the "blatant disregard' by people she says are supposed to be familiar with the process of compliance with the law and court orders.

"Ms. Jenkins, it is a big deal if somebody violates their electronic monitoring. It's a big deal. It's a violation of the court order," Judge McDonald said.

Bigger Issue

Prosecutors say this case is just the "tip of the iceberg." Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson hopes the judges message resonates with bondsmen and monitoring companies.

"It's a disturbing situation," Wilson said after Thursday's hearing. "I hope this is the most egregious situation that we've seen. For a bondsman to testify that they signed on a bond for hundreds of thousands of dollars but had no idea what they were supposed to do is outrageous," Wilson said.

Wilson says they're launching an investigation into those currently on GPS monitoring to find out how many others may be in violation. She estimates there are about 100 defendants under satellite monitoring in Charleston and Berkeley counties.

"We have to be in the loop. Law enforcement has to be in the loop because again, victims are counting on this service. Judges are relying on this service," Wilson said.

Solicitor Wilson says the biggest issue is bondsmen or monitoring companies don't get paid when a defendant is put back in jail. So, she says they have an incentive for the person to remain out and to work it among themselves. That's why they're even considering getting the sheriff and consolidated dispatch involved in the monitoring of the devices.

"I think it's worth giving a try to the local bondsmen and monitors to get this right. But, if they can't, there has to be serious consideration of law enforcement who doesn't have a financial incentive monitoring these satellites," she said. "We don't want to treat anybody unfairly, and we don't want to put anyone out of business. But again, this is a public safety issue that has really put victims and courts on the line."