Suspects in home monitoring unchecked

Recent murder case reveals city system's flaws

October 15, 2004|By Ryan Davis | Ryan Davis,SUN STAFF

Kevin Dorsey and Dennis Bowers were accused of violent crimes. So when a judge agreed to reduce their bails last month, he sought an additional precaution: He ordered that if they got out of jail, they must enter private home monitoring.

The trouble is, neither suspect did so. And no one noticed their absence until detectives were frantically searching for the pair - because they were accused of committing murder while the court believed they were being monitored.

The problem appears to extend to countless suspects ordered into private home monitoring as a condition for bail, a revelation that has stunned the Baltimore criminal justice system.

After such suspects post bail and walk out of jail, it is left to them and their defense attorneys to register for monitoring with private companies. But if they don't follow through, nobody in the criminal justice system knows or bothers to check.

"There is no way for us to track people who are supposed to be on private home detention," said state corrections spokesman Mark Vernarelli in a written statement. "There is no central record keeping of individuals on private home detention. ... Thus we do not know the number of folks who are supposed to be under private home detention."

Riddled with gaps

Prosecutors and judges are scrambling to patch up the system they didn't know was riddled with gaps - a program distinct from the state home detention system.

"If it's an honor system, we're not going to use it," said Baltimore Circuit Judge John M. Glynn. "I'm not taking the word of people accused of crimes that they're going to be on home monitoring."

All city prosecutors were ordered yesterday to oppose all requests for private home monitoring.

A day earlier, Glynn informed his city judicial colleagues about the situation and told them to take extra steps to ensure that suspects register.

Legislators have also taken note. Del. Joan Cadden, chairman of the public safety subcommittee for the House Appropriations Committee, said she will push for discussion and investigation.

The Anne Arundel County Democrat said she wants to determine if the problem is statewide, as company operators say it might be.

"It's incredible," Cadden said. "It's an example of another large hole in the criminal justice system in Baltimore City."

`Probably others'

No one can say whether other suspects are free despite orders to be on home monitoring.

"There are probably others," said the Circuit Court's Glynn, chairman of the city Criminal Justice Coordinating Council.

Private home monitoring has existed for many years. Defense attorneys and monitoring company managers said it's appealing because it reduces jail crowding and saves money.

Suspects pay for their monitoring. The price varies, but it can be $300 or more a month.

"It is becoming much more common," said defense attorney Margaret Mead. "It gives a safety net for both the court system and the community, along with allowing the defendant to be in his home environment."

Private home monitoring differs from the state detention program in several ways.

The state mostly handles offenders serving sentences of home monitoring, though it oversees some suspects awaiting trial. State home detainees awaiting trial do not post bail and are considered to be in custody. All state-monitored suspects and offenders are carefully screened.

"Historically, we have had little to do with private home monitors aside from licensing and periodic audits," said Vernarelli, the corrections spokesman.

There are at least four private home monitoring companies operating in Maryland, according to company owners. Their clients are affixed with monitoring devices, typically anklets, and given orders as to when they must be home.

Defense attorneys are notified of violations, and they have an obligation to notify the court, Mead said.

Across the state, the system is inconsistent in tracking whether suspects released from jail enter the private monitoring, said Paul Kent, the director of Home Confinement Services in Rockville.

"There's no standard way to handle it, and that's part of the problem," he said. "It sounds like it is the problem."

Clueless in the court

The Sun reviewed all Baltimore Circuit Court bail reviews for the week of Sept. 9 - the week in which Bowers and Dorsey had their bail reduced. Suspects seek Circuit Court bail reductions after circumstances in their cases change - such as some charges being dropped.

At times during the hearings, judges and attorneys seemed to lack an understanding of how the private home monitoring works.

"Who makes the arrangement for the home monitoring?" asked Circuit Judge Albert J. Matricciani Jr.

"I believe that would be me," public defender Jerome LaCorte said.

"And you have to submit an order to me for that?" Matricciani asked.

"I believe so," LaCorte replied.

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