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Updated: Thursday, 21 Feb 2013, 1:16 PM EST
Published : Tuesday, 19 Feb 2013, 10:20 PM EST
INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - One of the two teens accused in a crime spree that stretched into two counties last week was wearing a "home detention" ankle monitor at the time. I-Team 8 discovered those monitors are far from foolproof, and juveniles may be exploiting some loopholes in the system.
Formal charges were filed Tuesday in adult court against Sirquain Burr, 17, including two counts of murder, a felony robbery count and a count for carrying a handgun without a license. Charges have not been filed yet against the other suspect, a 15-year-old juvenile, who remains in the Marion County juvenile detention center.
Court records show both teens have been placed on home detention before, and the 15-year-old was wearing an ankle monitor last week. But, I-Team 8 discovered it didn’t alert probation officers that he was gone.
THE CRIME SPREE
IMPD investigators believe the teens are responsible for a number of crimes committed on Tuesday and Wednesday, including a homicide on the south side Wednesday morning and the shooting of a man walking his dog that preceded a police chase.
Burr is also already facing charges of robbery, attempted robbery and auto theft that from a Feb. 11 incident.
He is scheduled to appear in court for the first time Wednesday. The 15-year-old is scheduled to appear in court on Thursday, when charges against him are expected to be announced.
Both suspects have extensive juvenile criminal pasts and have worn ankle monitors before.
Court records show Burr was previously sentenced to wear a home detention monitor for 30 days. The 15-year-old was sentenced to wear a home detention monitor for 30 days on Jan. 10, prior to a hearing on charges that he had robbed an 85-year-old woman. That 30-day sentence was extended for another 30 days following the hearing on Feb. 7.
According to Marion County Juvenile Court Judge Marilyn Moores, between 85 and 90 juveniles are on home detention monitoring at any given time.
She calls the system extremely successful.
“It is effective. The failure to appear rate is 1.93 percent. That's pretty good. I'm unaware of anything other than jail that's 100 percent. Nothing's foolproof,” she said.
A SHOCK TO OUR FAMILY
After his son’s first appearance in juvenile court last Friday, James Edwards, Sr. called Wednesday’s events "a horrible tragedy."
“It was a shock to our family,” Edwards said. “We're very sorry that this happened. If there was any way we could turn the book back, we would.”
But, Edwards also said his son, the 15-year-old, should have been far away from it all.
"He knew he was on house arrest, on ankle monitor. He knew he had to go to school. Instead of him coming back home when he missed the bus, he didn't. He rode with this fellow in the car,” Edwards said.
But, I-Team 8 found the boy’s ankle monitor never alerted probation officers that he was gone.
Moores said that’s because it’s not designed to.
“Electronic monitoring tells you when they are at home and if they are not,” Moores said. “And, if they have a reason to be out of the home that is a valid reason like work or school, then they have to give the time frames that they'll be out of monitoring range, and then we don't get an alarm.”
“Anybody, adult or juvenile, gets to leave to go to work or school,” said IU Robert H. McKinney School of Law Professor Novella Nedeff.
Nedeff, a former major felony public defender in Marion County, who also works as a criminal defense attorney says the program is designed to include some “leeway.”
“They would have some leave time on school days,” she said. “And, that makes it a challenge. I know from some of my adult clients that community corrections will call their work to make sure they're really there. But, of course, the manpower to check somebody every day is finite.”
"This is a case where the kid should have been in school. And, he wasn't in school. And, when we found out he wasn't in school, we went looking for him,” Moores said.
But, by the time probation officers knocked on the teen’s door, he had already been in handcuffs for hours.
It's a familiar story to Brenda Hill.
Her stepson Curtis, also a juvenile, wore an ankle monitor too.
“Oh, yeah, it worked,” she said. “It makes a loud beeping sound. If he leaves, it goes off. And, they can monitor it. No one knocked on the door, but we got a couple phone calls.”
But, I-Team 8 found the devices aren’t monitored all the time.
Police reports filed over the last six months alone detail more than a dozen teens on home detention found outside their homes during the middle of the day, on days when they should have been school.
But, Moores says, in many of those cases, the ankle monitors have not sounded an alarm.
Asked if that meant the teens were out of the system’s eye during those hours, Moores nodded.
“Just like an adult at work,” she said. “They sure are.”
But, I-Team 8 discovered the system’s limitations go beyond that.
Marion County uses a private company based in Colorado to monitor adult
offenders around the clock. But, Moores said juveniles on home detention are monitored mainly by juvenile probation officers. Staffing shortages can, at times, leave juveniles "off the grid" for as much as one-third of every day.
The hours when most juvenile offenders violate the terms of their home detention are usually covered, court officials said. But, some still slip through the cracks.
Asked if there was ever some lag time in knowing when an offender has broken their home detention, Moores paused.
“That’s probably true,” she said.
For security reasons, I-Team 8 is not naming those hours, but some say the lack of monitoring is no secret on the streets.
“I don't really think people are watching it,” said D’Aron Hill, Brenda’s son. “Not 24/7.”
“We know [that[ by proof,” nodded Brenda. “By experience, basically."
“It is not fully effective,” agreed Cynthia Smith. “I know lots of people who have been on it who have been out all day. They need more officers and more supervision.”
PUSHING THE ENVELOPE
“Once children start hearing rumors like that, they are likely to push the envelope and see how far they can go,” Nedeff said.
Because of that, Moores said judges are selective.
“We are judicious about who we put on electronic monitoring. We take a lot of things into account, like if we have had contact with them before. Have they appeared for court before? We look at the seriousness of the offense,” she said.
Judges can also opt to give an offender a Global Positioning System—or GPS—monitor, which can track an offender’s exact location in real time.
But, that’s a rare option in juvenile courts.
“We're very limited in the GPS units. We only have 4. So, we reserve them for someone we would need to know where they are 24 hours a day, not someone who had just been found true of auto theft,” Moores said, referencing the 15-year-old.
Moores said adding more GPS units would help juvenile probation officers better track offenders on home detention. But, she says it won’t happen unless someone steps up to pay for them.
While adults sentenced to home detention monitoring can be forced to pay for their own ankle units with costs ranging from $12 to $18 per day, Moores says juveniles are not.
“The problem is payment. Kids don't have money. And, we are not necessarily in a position--nor does the law allow us--to force parents to pay. That's why we own the equipment and have gotten grant money to get it, so that we can use that as an alternative to detention,” she said.
But, Nedeff says even the GPS units aren’t foolproof.
"If someone wants to break the rule, they can leave. If somebody cuts it off, they are going to leave. And, once they leave, the system has a hard time tracking them down,” she said.
Moores stresses that all electronic monitoring devices are recorded, so they can be used as evidence in court, whether they’re being monitored in real time or not. She says the system, while not perfect, is one that still works.
“I think we can always learn from bad situations and work to make the system better,” she said. “But, I don’t see, nor have I been informed, or any system failure. The kid just didn’t go to school.”
“I think most of the time it does work,” Nedeff agreed. “But, nothing is 100 percent effective. Bottom line: it cannot guarantee our community's safety by itself.”