Teen faces new assault charges despite home detention

Police track him via GPS monitor

May 18, 2010|By Tricia Bishop, The Baltimore Sun

A Baltimore teenager nicknamed "Murder" was facing new assault charges Monday, three days after he was placed on house arrest and equipped with a tracking monitor to deter criminal activity.

The case is raising more questions about whether home monitoring, particularly that backed by an ankle bracelet global positioning device, can keep the public safe from potentially violent juvenile offenders.

Last month, another teen, Lamont Davis, was convicted of attempted murder while on the same GPS system. The teen in this recent incident — Maurice "Murder" Powell — was a witness in Davis' case.

On Friday, a judge sentenced Powell, 17, to community detention as a sort of holding spot until he could be placed in a more secure setting. The sentence was delivered over the objections of the Department of Juvenile Services and the prosecutor, who sources say wanted Powell detained.

He was placed under house arrest and forced to wear a GPS tracking monitor — the toughest restrictions the department can order for community detention. But over the weekend, sources said, Powell attacked a female friend, leading to the weekend's misdemeanor assault charges.

Powell is widely known for his connection to last month's high-profile trial, in which Davis, who recently turned 18, was convicted of attempted murder of a girl who was 5 at the time of the shooting. A Baltimore jury found Davis guilty of shooting Raven Wyatt, now 6, and another person in 2009, while on the GPS-monitoring system.

Davis' defense attorneys and several witnesses claimed in court that Powell was the real shooter.

Powell was called as a reluctant witness in the Davis case, refusing to testify and asserting his right against self-incrimination. He was brought to court in handcuffs after being arrested on two warrants, one for a probation violation and the other ordering him to appear for the Davis trial. In 2009, a half-dozen warrants were issued for Davis for not complying with legal orders, making him an unlikely candidate for GPS home monitoring.

Gov. Martin O'Malley set aside $1 million to implement the GPS system in 2008 as a way to help keep tabs on the state's riskiest juvenile offenders. The state recently agreed to pay another $2.8 million to continue using it through August 2013, even though critics claim the system has flaws, including easy circumvention.

Officials can't track defendants if they leave their designated area without an electronic monitor that communicates with the ankle bracelet, though then the devices will register a violation.

Flaws were an issue during the Davis trial, when jurors were told that Davis had violated the program more than 100 times. DJS says that figure was incorrect, and Davis' attorney now agrees. They say Davis actually had about nine instances that registered as violations, and most of those were because he temporarily left his approved area. Davis' attorney has asked for a new trial based on the discrepancy.

Powell's records show that over the weekend, he, too, stepped out of bounds and apparently left his tracking monitor behind. After DJS representatives called police, Powell was arrested; he's currently being held at a facility on the Eastern Shore.

Kristen Mahoney, executive director of the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention, said the GPS tracking system is a tool that should be used with other supervision tactics. It's meant to be part of a detention program for eligible defendants and not as a temporary holding place to be used while other arrangements are made.

"This young man was pending placement, which is very different," Mahoney said. It's not clear what crime Powell was being sentenced for on Friday because juvenile records are not publicly available.

Mahoney said that DJS took "the strictest" precautions it could after Powell was sentenced to community detention, using the GPS system and notifying police that Powell was in the community.

Powell has been arrested at least 10 times on allegations of drug distribution, assault and disorderly conduct, sources said. A hearing was scheduled Monday on the misdemeanor assault charges filed against him for the weekend incident, but Powell was not brought from the Eastern Shore for it. It has been rescheduled for this afternoon.

Judge Edward R. K. Hargadon, who oversees juvenile court cases, said he could not comment on specific cases nor address why Powell was placed on home detention in the first place.

DJS spokesman Jay Cleary also said he could not talk about specific cases, though he added that the decision to place a defendant on community detention "really is up to the judge."

"We only make the recommendations, and then it is up to the courts how they want to act on it," Cleary said.

Maryland law recommends the least restrictive alternative for juvenile offenders, which means judges "favor youth being treated in the community rather than putting them all in a detention facility," Cleary said.

"In this instance, maybe [GPS] gave the judge a false sense that this is going to provide some sense of security that it didn't," Mahoney said. "It's just a tool."

tricia.bishop@baltsun.com

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