Chauncey Jones is just the kind of guy the state parole and probation system's Violence Prevention Initiative was created to keep tabs on. But his inclusion on the list and multiple allegations of violations weren't enough to send him back to jail before he was charged with murder.
Jones, who turned 18 last month and stands 5 feet 3 inches tall, has a knack for acquiring guns; he was convicted twice for handgun possession as a juvenile and once as an adult. Given probation instead of prison, Jones had repeated infractions that prompted his probation agent to beg District Judge C. Yvonne Holt-Stone four times to lock him up - none of which was successful.
"Because of his age, he has been given numerous chances to turn his life around," wrote the agent, Beverly Mattingly. The state "cannot condone this type of behavior, especially in someone so young. Our goal is public safety, and actions such as those listed above are unacceptable and a possible threat to the community."
On Tuesday, Jones was indicted on charges of first-degree murder in the shooting death of a man Oct. 10. A hearing is set for Wednesday on yet another attempt to find Jones in violation of his probation.
Cases such as Jones' are frustrating for state and local law enforcement leaders, who have been targeting the worst of the worst through the Violence Prevention Initiative. Created in July 2007 under Gov. Martin O'Malley, VPI involves keeping close watch on more than 2,200 offenders who meet certain criteria, pushing for violations to send them to prison or jail on even a minor infraction.
"This population is the riskiest, most dangerous, and most treacherous group to supervise," said Kristen Mahoney, director of O'Malley's Office of Crime Control and Prevention.
Patrick G. McGee, the state's director of parole and probation, said agents provide as much information to judges as possible and their requests for violations are honored "more often than not," with hundreds more people sitting in Cental Booking primarily on probation or parole warrants.
But the decision to send offenders back to prison ultimately rests with judges, who say authorities are asking them to hold suspects without bail for weeks or months before a formal hearing, and then to revoke suspended sentences and order additional prison time for even a minor probation violation. Some judges say the program undermines their discretion, with the violations sometimes too technical.
Holt-Stone did not return calls seeking comment."I think that a lot of the judges have concerns that their authority is being usurped by a state agent, who is being very aggressive and automatically trying to send people back to jail," said Margaret Mead, a defense attorney who isn't representing Jones. "I think there are some people that really should be very closely monitored because of their propensity toward violence. However, nothing can be done in a vacuum when you're dealing with human beings."
Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III said he believes it's a simple matter of enforcing the conditions imposed by the court. Setting probation terms without enforcing them, particularly involving those who have been determined to be the state's most violent, sends a poor message to offenders, he said.
"I've heard many judges say, 'I'm going to suspend this sentence and give you probation, and heaven help you if you violate my conditions,' " said Bealefeld, raising his voice in frustration. "All we've asked is judges to do what they promised to do" when probation terms were set.
Court records shed light on Jones' past - and law enforcement efforts to incarcerate him. He was hospitalized at Sheppard Pratt for displaying "oppositional behavior." He progressed through middle school and entered ninth grade "even though he basically could not read at all," according to a report prepared for the court. He had five contacts in the juvenile system, according to the report, two of which involved handguns, and at age 13 was committed to the Department of Juvenile Services.
On April 5, 2008, about 10:30 p.m., four officers in an area of Northeast Baltimore which police wrote in charging documents was "infested with violent crime and narcotics activity" approached a crowd that quickly dispersed - except for Jones, who gripped a Glock pistol and took off running. He was eventually captured, and officers found three bags of marijuana in his pants pocket, according to charging documents.
Asked about his criminal history, Jones shrugged, "I was just young and I thought it was fun. Now I realize it ain't."
At a hearing July 29, 2008, prosecutors pushed for a sentence of two years with all but nine months suspended. Holt-Stone imposed time served and sentenced Jones to probation.