NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the city’s jail population decreased from more than a thousand in March to just under 800 today. Judges ordered many of those inmates released on ankle monitors.
“One of the advantages is when you have a person who’s risk is higher, a person who may re-offend or a person who is a career criminal or a person who has a history of skipping court. The court isn’t actually letting them go. They’re technically being released to a digital jail,” says Matt Dennis.
That digital jail means wearing an ankle monitor, a device that tracks a person’s where abouts and sends specific data and coordinates to the monitoring company.
“The judge can construct whatever types of terms and conditions and that can be managed from a computer screen with 100 percent certainty,” says Dennis.
Matt Dennis owns A2I, an ankle monitoring company used by Criminal Court Judges.
“It just depends on what the order is, but the order can be followed to the letter of the law,” says Dennis.
Dennis says it gives his company arrest powers if a person violates the conditions of his or her release, but that isn’t always the case.
“Depending on the type of release, if the judge released him or her on an ROR, there’s more restrictions. We don’t have full arrest powers,” says Dennis.
An ROR or released on your own recognizance means free bond. And, while the judge can still impose conditions of the bond, the ankle monitoring company cannot automatically arrest the defendant if they violate those conditions.
Dennis points to Jonathan Garner, a theft suspect released on an ROR in March.
“He was ordered to go to a drug rehab and check in. He did not do that. He was ordered to stay home. He did not do that, and he refused to plug in his device. At that point, is device died. Had he been released on bond, he would never have gotten that far,” says Dennis.
Dennis says if a judge wouldn’t have released Garner on an ROR, he could have arrested Garner after the first item he violated the conditions of his release.
Instead, Dennis had to reach out to a judge, present the evidence and get an arrest warrant.
“We were still able to go to him and interject and plug in, all while working with the judge through email and on the phone to get him to get a warrant issued. So, we got the same end and he still went to jail, but it took a lot longer,” says Dennis.
In a separate case, a judge released alleged D-Block gang leader Glenn McCormick on an ROR last month.
“The judge knew McCormick was a known drug dealer. He has seen video evidence of him dealing drugs in broad daylight on Dumaine Street, and the judge’s justification of releasing him on an ROR was that he didn’t want him to contract the virus,” says Rafael Goyeneche.
Judge Darryl Derbigny placed McCormick on an ankle monitor but didn’t impose house arrest, only a 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew.
“He went straight from A2I offices to his old gang territory. Literally 17 minutes after leaving our office, he went back to his stomping grounds, but he was complying with the courts order. There was nothing that said he couldn’t be there. Four days later, he was dead,” says Dennis.
Someone gunned down McCormick on the corner of Dumaine and North Broad.
“Had he been released to a bond with home incarceration, he would have been in jail instead of dead,” says Dennis.
Judge Derbigny released another alleged D-Block gang member, Johnny Johnson, on an ROR with the same bond conditions as McCormick.
“Just so everyone in the criminal justice system understand, his dot was one block away at the time of McCormick’s murder. We brought that to the attention of the criminal justice system and the DA requested a hearing where the conditions were changed to 24 hour lockdown,” says Dennis.
“Which shows the judge failed to provide the type of management in controlling the actions of known drug dealers,” says Goyeneche.
Rafael Goyeneche of the Metropolitan Crime Commission says ankle monitoring is a great way to supervise released defendants, but the conditions and type of release are extremely important.
“The conditions set the parameters of the supervision and the type of release sets the capabilities of the supervision,” says Dennis.
“You need to have a mechanism to make sure offenders are complying with the conditions of their release and not committing additional crimes and electronic monitoring is a solution to that,” says Goyeneche.
Goyeneche says while he’s a proponent of electronic monitoring, he believes it’s a system that should be in the hands of law enforcement instead of a private vendor.
Dennis says he’s in constant communication with law enforcement and gives them access to his system.