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Repo’d Ankle Monitor Left Murder Suspect At Large in Harris County

What happens when a murder subject becomes at large? This June, Harris County Court placed a murder suspect on bond this summer with an ankle monitor to track his whereabouts. But the GPS company repossessed his ankle monitor for late fees in September, leaving the murder suspect effectively at large in the city of Houston, TX.

The incident showcased the differences between the cash bail bonding system for releasing defendants from jail versus the GPS monitoring method. How to bond out in Harris County has been an issue the county court has been debating for months.

How did the suspect lose his ankle monitor? According to the authorities, when the murder subject fell behind on his monthly monitoring payments, the company supplying Harris County’s ankle monitoring device came and simply took it off his ankle, leading to public outcry among Harris County officials like District Attorney Kim Ogg. She cited the case exposed a “troubling loophole” in which defendants can escape supervised tracking simply by not paying their monthly monitoring fee. 

This example prompted Ogg to immediately call for an overhaul of Harris County’s pretrial practices.

Ogg’s request met with backlash from the Harris County Community Supervision and Corrections Department. The director replied to Ogg, saying the incident was not a policy loophole, but a local GPS vendor simply breaking his agreement. The director then assured us that the vendor was terminated.

Teresa May told Texas Tribune that in her twenty years of serving for the county, she has never seen any vendor perform this kind of violation.

But although May insists the violation was a one-timer, the case calls attention to two different methods competing for attention in Harris County to monitor criminal defendants awaiting trial. In one, folks released on a surety bond from jail before trial pay a higher monthly fee directly to vendors. In the other, defendants on no-cash bonds must pay the county, which then pays the vendors. The defendants with no-cash option who are poor enough can have their monitoring fee waived entirely.

When it comes to no-cash bonds, there is a whole department devoted to handling the system. As Kelvin Banks, director of Harris County’s Pretrial Services said, “Our system is agency-pay.” The vendors send Harris County a monthly invoice, and aren’t aware if the defendant is a delinquent or not.

The suspect, 27-year-old Clint Walker, was indicted in the shooting of 59-year-old security guard Enrique Garcia who was working at the game room that Walker had allegedly robbed. Walker’s release from jail on a $100,000 and ankle monitor with fees connected to it ranged from $280-$300 per month. 

Once released on a monetary bond, Walker had seven days to choose which approved vendor to find his monitor. He chose Guarding Public Safety. Three months later, Walker accrued $305 in fees and, as it was discovered, was no longer being monitored. 

“When I found out that he was on the possible run for being out on bond and getting his ankle monitor removed, it just kind of stopped my heart for a moment,” Hugo Garcia, Enrique Garcia’s son, said. “I have a wife of 13 years, one daughter, 10 years old… We just need to know answers so that this kind of situation doesn’t happen again to another family.”

When phone calls to Walker’s home weren’t returned, the court set up a hearing a few days later. When Walker didn’t show up to court, he was arrested – about two weeks after the monitor was removed. 

Walker wasn’t suspected of trying to run or flee the system. May suspected it was never his plan, since defendants wanting to flee will typically cut off the monitor themselves. “Defendants who decide that they want to run or abscond or not be monitored, they’re going to cut if off,” May said. “They’re not concerned about all this.”

Walker has since been held in Harris County’s jail, now without the means to bond out. The court will decide whether or not he should be released again, and many suspect that due to the severity of the crime and public exposure of the case, Walker is going to stay in jail until his court date. In the meantime, monitoring devices are still the safest way courts know of to keep tabs on murder suspects who are unconvicted but awaiting trial. And it’s always good to remember that in the United States, at least constitutionally, suspects are innocent until proven guilty.

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