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Updated: Wednesday, 02 May 2012, 7:40 AM EDT
Published : Tuesday, 01 May 2012, 5:26 PM EDT
INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - Every day, law enforcement officers across Indiana work to hunt down wanted individuals. Often that search comes up empty. But, I-Team 8 had no trouble tracking down dozens of alleged absconders in a matter of a few hours. They were all hiding in plain sight.
All have allegedly done something to violate the terms of their probation, and should be in police custody. According to Marion County’s Superior Court Probation Department, of the 15,000 adult probationers in Marion County, nearly one-third are on the run. Some have been listed as "wanted" for more than 15 years.
I-Team 8 found dozens of them divulging critical details about their whereabouts online, on websites like Facebook, Twitter and MySpace. Some posted pictures from the beach in Florida, or living the high life in Los Angeles. Some showed off their new tattoos or smartphones. Each was openly posting digital details about their lives for the World Wide Web to see.
“These are all digital records of who is there, where you're going and what you're doing,” said Indiana University Law Professor Fred Cate. “You're incredibly accessible when you live your life online.”
"Individuals have posted gang paraphernalia, gang associations, weapons usage," said Marion County Superior Court Judge Mark Stoner, a former chairman of Indiana's State Probation Committee. "It's amazing what people will put on social media without ever thinking it will incriminate them. Everything you put on the Internet is going to be public domain. And it will stay there forever."
Using a list of current probation violators provided by county probation departments across Central Indiana, I-Team 8 logged on to several social media sites and began searching for names. Within minutes, we found Antoine Hill, who was released from prison in 2004 after serving a three-year sentence for burglary. The following year, he was listed as a “delinquent violator” by the Indiana Department of Corrections based on charges from on a separate case in Marion County. According to Marion County’s Probation Department, a probation violation warrant was also issued at that time.
His Facebook profile says he works at a restaurant just outside Toledo, Ohio. On it, he posted pictures of himself at work, photos with his pit bull, and a picture of a bottle of liquor. In a post from 2011, he says he's "going home next week for my birthday." Then he gives his cell phone number and says "call me."
I-Team 8 did just that, but found the number was listed as "temporarily out of service."
Using an Internet search engine, we were able to track down his grandfather in Indianapolis. I-Team 8 asked if he was aware that his grandson was listed as a probation violator.
"No. No I didn't," he said.
He said he wasn't sure exactly where Antoine was, but would try to track him down.
"I'll try to get in contact with him. I'm surprised to hear this, because I wouldn't think he's wanted," he said.
Twenty minutes later Antoine Hill called us, and said his probation officer told him he was "in the clear" years ago.
"He said I was off," Hill said over the phone. "Everything was resolved. They switched the [probation officer], and he said everything was fine."
Hill said he was surprised to hear he was listed as a violator, and called the probation warrant a "paperwork error" that he planned to fix.
But, when asked by I-Team 8 if he planned to turn himself in, Hill paused.
"When I come down [to Indianapolis] I will," he said. "Why do it here when I'll have to go way down there?"
As of the airing of this story, Marion County's probation department said Hill’s probation violation warrant remained active.
We found Lloyd Hood's name midway through Marion County's probation warrant list. His criminal history in Indiana includes two DUI convictions in Marion County and a three-year sentence for failing to report to prison on time.
His record at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles is even longer, filled with alcohol-related charges, seat belt and insurance violations, and a lifetime suspension on his driver's license that began in early 2004.
I-Team 8 found Hood on Facebook, too, posting pictures of himself next to cars from a house in Knightstown. He also posted a picture of a motorcycle.
We drove there and found his mother Margaret Cross on the front porch. She said he wasn't home, but confirmed Hood was staying there. She also said her son's probation officer had been to the home before.
"He was here maybe 18 months ago, and said he was clear, everything was done. I can't figure it out! He stayed up in Indy until he was off probation, and [he complied] with the terms, because he said, ‘Mom, I don't want to go back,’" she said.
She picked up the phone to prove it.
Lloyd Hood answered, and told I-Team 8 that he was "nearby," but couldn't meet us in person because he isn't supposed to drive. When we offered to drive to meet up with him, he said he wouldn't have any free time until later in the week.
Instead, he too promised to "straighten things out" over the phone.
"That's definitely something I did not know nothing about," he said over the phone. "I will be making a call to find out what's going on."
As of the airing of this story, Marion County's probation department said Hood’s probation violation warrant also remained active.
I-Team 8 found Leisha Kay Wallace's picture on the Marion County Sheriff's Department's "Top 5 Most Wanted" list. She's been on the run from probation officers since 2007, following convictions for theft and forgery.
On her Facebook and MySpace accounts, she lists relatives and friends, and a link to her job as a "home health care provider." Type in her name to an Internet search engine, and you'll find multiple addresses for her homes in North Carolina.
Her criminal record in that state is seven pages long, including another arrest for forgery last year. She spent time in jail in North Carolina in 2008, and was served with Marion County’s active warrant at that time, according to Marion County Probation. She also served time in prison in North Carolina, but was not extradited back to Indiana.
Her probation has been revoked in North Carolina, too, and her warrant out of Marion County also remained active as of the airing of this story.
But, she's still posting new content to her social media accounts.
So, why aren’t she and the other probation violators we found locked up?
We took that question to Marion County Chief Probation Officer Robert Bingham.
"I think the North Carolina people are going to say what we're going to say. And that is: they're going to want some indication of the risk level and the danger from this individual. The research has indicated that if they're low risk, minor offenders, the best thing probation can do is really leave them alone. Focus on the medium risk and high risk offenders, because they are more likely to recidivate and pose a danger to the community." Bingham said.
There may be another explanation: resources.
"We've got about 10,000 adults on probation and 4,000 juveniles. Do I have any individuals specifically devoted to doing this? The answer is no," Bingham said.
In total, 266 staff members in Marion County's probation office have been tasked with tracking approximately 15,000 adult probationers. Of that list, approximately 4,600-4,900 are listed as “probation warrants” on any given day.
Still, Bingham said technology is now playing a central role in how his officers track probationers.
"It is the biggest change, probably, in my career. It dictates, really, everything that we do. We are now supervising individuals appropriately by risk level, by severity indexes in the community. And, that's all driven by technology,” he said.
Asked if officers are using social media sites, specifically, to track offenders, Bingham nodded.
"Yes we do," he said. "And that's something that's developed within the last year."
Still, Bingham admits there is no one in Marion County using the Internet to track probation violators full time. With nearly 5,000 open adult probation warrants in Marion County alone, he says it's simply not a practical use of resources.
"Can we go after everybody we'd like to go after? Obviously, the case is no, just because of numbers," he said.
Still, even if he had extra eyes focused solely on the Web, Bingham says online posts don't always lead investigators directly to a violator's front door.
But, cyber security experts say that's changing.
"Law enforcement can get access to a lot that we as normal citizens don't get access to. And, a lot of times what police will also get is an order that obligates the company — let's say Facebook for example — to tell them when the person comes online. Then the police get notified that, as of this moment, this person you're looking for is online at this IP address," professor Cate said.
Cate, a professor at Indiana University's Maurer School of Law, also runs the school’s Center for Applied Cyber-Security Research. He is often called to Capitol Hill to testify as a cyber-security witness before Congress.
Facebook tells its users that it may share your information with law enforcement, and that it does have limited ability to track you through your account, using your computer's IP address or GPS location on a mobile device.
"It's all in that agreement you clicked OK on when you signed up, but you probably didn't read," Cate explained. "And, just because you take it down or delete it, it's not gone. If it's ever been online, anyone else could have copied it. And, if you posted it someplace else — like Facebook — it wasn't posted on your computer. It was posted on Facebook's servers. They still have a copy of it, and they keep that copy of it. And, anyone else who copied it while it was on Facebook — they still have their copy of it."
Bottom line, Cate said: digital records are becoming one of the most valuable tools law enforcement have to track criminals.
"Even when you don't expressly [put out details about your daily life], most people have no idea about how much about their lives is out there and about how much they reveal online is available to others," Cate told I-Team 8.
It's happening in the courtroom, too.
Cate says the job of a defense attorney or prosecutor now includes a heavy dose of the World Wide Web.
"The first thing you do is subpoena their Facebook records," Cate said. "Because you want to see — were they out partying when they said they were getting their leg in a cast? Or, when they come into the courtroom using crutches, were they using them last night in the pictures they posted on Facebook? Initially, attorneys were very apprehensive about using Facebook and social media. Now, most savvy attorneys want online records and backup tapes, usually going back at least 30 days. And, that's all universally accepted in the courts now."
It's been a change for the better, Judge Stoner said.
"The court system over the last decade has really tightened up tracking offenders," Judge Stoner explained. "We used to have a very loose system if an offender would cross county lines and change their residence, get a job or go to school. The state judicial conference about six years ago developed what we call an intra-state protocol, which requires departments to communicate across state lines, so individuals don't fall through the cracks. And, a lot of that includes new Internet-based technology."
Stoner says the previous system never would have caught many of the absconders that are being put in handcuffs today.
"Someone might [move out of the county] and the judge would be shocked to know that this person had been unsupervised for five or six months and would have no idea where to start looking for them. That loophole has been closed, and we recognized that we were very fortunate that we didn't have a huge tragedy," he said.
Still, Stoner says there is a lot more than can be done to monitor criminals before they get to court.
"It's being done in individual cases, but I'm not aware of any mass programs using Facebook and electronic monitoring," he said.
Asked if that needs to change, Stoner nodded.
"I think it should and will," he said.
In 2011, the New York City Police Department created the nation's first "social networks unit," comprised of officers whose sole job is to track wanted criminals online. London police have teamed up with New Scotland Yard to go a step further, using software to track photos taken at recent riots. Facial recognition technology is comparing those photos with millions of photos posted on Facebook, Twitter and MySpace. Police are even posting photos of wanted criminals on Flickr, requesting the public's help in identifying them.
Social media tracking hasn't gone nearly that far in Indiana. But, it has helped Marion County reduce the number of active adult probation warrants, Bingham said.
"We have [caught probation violators using Facebook], absolutely," he said. "I know we have. But, it doesn't work 100 percent of the time. So, we have to rely on the risk level. That's what it gets down to. That's what it's going to be."
Still, Bingham says those who defy their probation — regardless of risk level — will eventually pay the price.
"If you're high risk, you're going to see us a lot more than if you're low risk. We're going to be more demanding of your conditions if you're high risk. We're going to be making more home visits, more collateral contacts, more urine drops, than if you're a low risk offender. But, most of the people we have on probation, we're either going to find them or get some sort of indication that they're been arrested — maybe a minor arrest. But, they're going to resurface," he said.
Then, pausing, he continued.
"We are watching," he said. "[We’re watching] more aggressively now than ever."
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