After a pair of brutal attacks — one allegedly by a defendant on home confinement, another by a man tracked by GPS — the electronic-monitoring programs used to keep tabs on defendants awaiting trial in Orange County are under heavy scrutiny.
Both home confinement, which is run by county corrections, and the privately operated GPS program that was briefly viewed as a favorable alternative have been suspended amid the bloodshed.
Until a solution is found, or trust in the programs is restored, judges in Orange have few pretrial-release options, and many defendants will be watched less closely than they were previously.
Pretrial-release programs are a popular solution to at least two common problems: One is jail crowding, and the other is the difficult balance between a defendant's right to bail and the potential for further crime.
But recent events have severely shaken trust in electronic monitoring in Orange County.
It began in February when the Orlando Sentinel revealed that Ocoee home-invasion defendant Bessman Okafor had violated his curfew numerous times while on home-confinement monitoring, none of which was reported to a judge. During an unauthorized outing in September, police said, Okafor shot three people — two of whom were scheduled to testify against him at trial.
One, 19-year-old Alex Zaldivar, was killed.
In February, Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs suspended use of that program. Though officials said defendants already on that program would stay on it, judges quickly began switching defendants off it.
Then on Easter, Wilfred Gregory, who was on GPS monitoring after a domestic-violence arrest, shot a man in Apopka and then cut off his GPS device, according to authorities. Police say the monitoring company, Court Programs of Central Florida, failed to reveal for several hours that the device had been removed and took longer to reveal that a company employee had found the abandoned device.
As a result, Orange-Osceola Chief Judge Belvin Perry suspended the GPS program last week. The roughly 180 people already on its monitoring will remain, he said, but no more will be added.
So far, the effect of suspending electronic monitoring in Orange has typically been fewer restrictions on defendants, not more.
That's because, regardless of the availability of monitoring, the large majority of cases are unlikely to meet any of the stringent criteria for keeping a defendant locked up until trial.
Only 18 of the more than 200 defendants who were on home confinement when the controversy began remained Friday morning, and corrections records show few have been ordered back behind bars: As of late March, only five defendants taken off the program without having committed a new crime or violation were returned to jail.
In the same period, judges removed at least 45 defendants from home confinement without any replacement monitoring. Nearly 50 more were switched to probationlike check-ins.
Even before the current controversy, defendants ordered to home confinement in Orange County were subject to very different monitoring than people charged with the same crimes one county over.
For example, home confinement in Orange utilized a radio-frequency monitor, not satellite-based GPS. The monitor communicated with a land-line-connected base unit dependent on electricity and home-phone service. The system, even when functioning as designed, lacked the capability to determine a defendant's whereabouts when away from home.
In adjacent Seminole County, however, home confinement is accomplished through a GPS monitor that, according to county officials, requires no base unit, can utilize a cellular signal and can determine and relay a defendant's location at all times.
In Orange, home-confinement violations were reported by corrections personnel to a judge, who then issued a warrant. There was no immediate notification of law enforcement or victims.
In Seminole, depending on their seriousness, violations are reported in real time to 911 dispatchers, probation or Sheriff's Office personnel, sheriff's spokeswoman Kim Cannaday said. In domestic-violence cases, the victim is notified of violations by cellphone and can escalate law-enforcement response if he or she feels an imminent threat.