One year later, GPS tracking system still in limbo

By Nikki

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) GPS monitoring of convicted criminals has been called ineffective and broken and now prosecutors are demanding change after a judge suspended all electronic monitoring six months ago.

While it creates a false sense of security for a victim in a case, it raises an even bigger question: Who should be accountable for tracking a defendant's whereabouts when they are placed on an ankle monitor?

When it comes to tracking law offenders through satellite monitoring, the state Department of Probation, Parole, and Pardon has an organized system already in place.

"They've been doing this for a while," said Ninth Circuit Court Solicitor Scarlett Wilson.

Wilson is looking to mirror that, having already met with the state agency for guidance.

"They have some protocols in place. They have a network in place, and I think that looks like a good option for us," said Wilson.

Last September a judge suspended all electronic monitoring for people accused of breaking the law. The case involving Deangelo Mitchell finally prompted a closer look at how closely criminals are monitored when released from jail.

"We certainly could show that he was not complying with the curfews and the house arrest," said Wilson.

In 2011, Mitchell was charged with involuntary manslaughter after police say he made his brother eat cocaine while in the back seat of a police cruiser. A judge eventually granted him bond, placing him under close surveillance which Wilson says he violated.

"There are some great bondsmen, but there are some who are not so great," said Wilson.

Jim Robinson, the owner of Robinson GPS Monitoring, supplied Mitchell with his ankle monitor.

"We reported it. Nothing was done," he said. "The bonding company was then supposed to take action because they have the authority to pick the defendant up but they didn't do so."

"When you have these defendants who are on the electronic monitors, the satellite monitoring they're violating, then for the bondsmen to turn them in, he's going to miss out on a good deal of income," said Wilson.

Wilson wants the sheriff's office in both Berkeley and Charleston counties to be in charge of watching an inmate's every move when they're out among the general public.

"I think that's the appropriate place for it primarily because the jail serves as a central point that connects all of law enforcement throughout the county," said Charleston County Sheriff Al Cannon. "We have been working very closely with the solicitor's office and the state probation pardon and parole folks who do this."

While nothing is yet final, Cannon says his office may coordinate the program but not necessarily monitor it. That, he says, could come from a third party.

"Burglar alarms, many of those are monitored by private entities," stated Cannon. "There are a whole lot of things that have to be worked out to ensure that we've got a credible system."

But it's one system Wilson vows to see happen in order to keep the public safe.

"This won't be a cost to taxpayers. This will be something the defendants who make bond, they pay for the service to be monitored," said Wilson.

In Dorchester County, satellite tracking is monitored by an outside party. A spokesperson for the sheriff's office says there have been no plans to change that.