Reliability, use of GPS tracker questioned during teen's trial

Device cannot be counted on to record exact time of all violations, company says

April 09, 2010|By Tricia Bishop | | Baltimore Sun reporter

An expensive GPS system used by the state to monitor underage criminals cannot reliably record the time of certain violations, a company representative acknowledged in Baltimore Circuit Court on Friday during the attempted-murder trial of a city teenager.

The admission was supposed to poke holes in the alibi of 17-year-old Lamont Davis, which relies on data from the device to show he was at home on July 2 — the day police say he shot Raven Wyatt, now 6, in the head and a teenage boy.

But it appeared to do little more than raise new questions, including whether there are any repercussions for the violations that are recorded.

Davis has at least 15 juvenile arrests on his record. He was placed on the device in June as a precautionary measure, after being released from detention for assaulting and robbing a teenage girl.

Yet attorneys on both sides agreed in court Friday that he was out of compliance — meaning he did not carry the tracking component with him or that he was not where he was supposed to be – more than 100 times in the few weeks he wore it. And it's unclear whether any action was taken against him.

It's up to the monitoring company, which is based in Nebraska, to notify the Department of Juvenile Services when there is a violation. And it's then up to DJS to decide whether to notify the state and the courts. And officials frequently don't, said Margaret T. Burns, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore City state's attorney's office.

"There is no safety net," she said. DJS told The Baltimore Sun last year that Davis had cut the device off of his ankle and that agency officials were searching for him within 15 minutes of the infraction. But an officer testified Friday that he was the one to remove the device from Davis' leg after taking the teenager into custody July 4.

DJS spokesman Jay Cleary declined to comment on the discrepancy Friday, saying the agency did not want to "have any inappropriate impact on the outcome of the case."

DJS representatives are expected to be called to the stand talk about their monitoring procedures, however, prosecutor Diana Smith confirmed Friday.

The Baltimore City state's attorney's office has said the device is fatally flawed because it's easily circumvented and has too many limitations. It can't track a person's location or log the time an ankle strap is tampered with if a transmitter is not nearby. Those issues are likely to be explored further Monday when testimony resumes.

Other testimony Monday is expected to focus on defense claims that a teenager nicknamed "Murder" was the shooter. Maurice "Murder" Powell, has been missing for weeks, but he was picked up Friday on a warrant for an unrelated juvenile violation. He is expected to be brought to court to testify on a separate, material witness warrant.

The mother of Davis' two children was brought into court Friday on a similar warrant, and she testified that Powell, a close friend of hers, was the shooter.

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