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With little oversight, defendants with GPS monitors in SC often re-offend, violate bond conditions

LIVE 5 INVESTIGATES
Published: May. 9, 2022 at 7:44 PM EDT|Updated: May. 9, 2022 at 8:15 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - When it comes to ensuring defendants are being properly monitored while out on bond, there is little oversight of bond companies—who are responsible for monitoring defendants with GPS anklets—and little reason for them to report any violations, leaving victims and their loved ones suffering.

Chloe Bess is one of those victims. For her, June 2, 2019, is a night forever seared into her memory.

“I could feel what was happening, and I couldn’t move because I was so scared,” she says. “On the inside, I was wanting to start wailing or scream but I couldn’t.”

It was that night at a high school party in Orangeburg County that Bess says she was sexually assaulted by another teenager, Bowen Turner, who was 16-years-old at the time.

“I ran into the woods, and I was hiding behind a bush,” Bess says. “He’s screaming my name, trying to find me.”

When Bess’ alleged sexual assault took place, Turner was out on bond for another sexual assault just 8 months prior, court records show. He was accused of a third sexual assault before that, according to court documents.

“He technically wasn’t even supposed to be there, so this shouldn’t have happened to me,” Bess says.

From August of 2019 onward, with multiple criminal sexual conduct charges pending, Turner was out on bond with a GPS monitor. A judge ordered him on house arrest, and he could only leave to meet with his attorney, for mental health appointments and medical emergencies, according to court records.

But documents obtained by Live 5 Investigates show Turner was not spending his days ahead of trial at home. Instead, he was going to multiple golf courses, restaurants, stores and even across state lines.

“I don’t know why he was able to go so many without anyone really be able notified until like 4 months later,” Bess says. “It’s concerning in so many areas.”

Bess’ father, Darren, too, finds it concerning Turner could get away with dozens of bond violations, month after month.

“We’re just very concerned that this is not an isolated case, that this is happening across the state,” he says.

In fact, Turner’s case is not the only one in South Carolina, or even in the Lowcountry, where a defendant violates bond time after time, even with a GPS monitor attached to his or her ankle. Some even go on to reoffend.

“It’s not uncommon,” 9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson says.

Just flipping back through articles on Live 5′s website, you can see multiple examples of defendants violating house arrest, ignoring their GPS monitor and disregarding their bond conditions.

There’s the case of Timothy Schultheis, who was on bond with a GPS monitor after kidnapping two sisters in Aiken County and sexually assaulting one of them when he was arrested again this past March in Blufton for kidnapping a 12-year-old in Arizona.

Another example is Justin Moultrie. He was out on bond with an ankle monitor for a 2020 murder in Charleston when he was arrested again last month after police say he shot a 9-year-old in the foot.

Both Moultrie and Schultheis are awaiting trial for these cases.

“The public is sick and tired of seeing people on bond after bond, continuing to reoffend with no consequences,” Wilson says.

So how does this happen? If a judge orders GPS monitoring for a defendant, who’s making sure they’re where they’re supposed to be?

In most places in South Carolina, that responsibility falls on bondsmen, according to Wilson.

“They put the monitor on the defendant and are charged with monitoring and ensuring the defendant complies with the conditions of the bond,” she says. “Some bond companies have their own monitoring service, some contract out other monitoring services.”

Nick Bennett, the owner of Bennett Monitoring Services and Bennett Bail Bonds, can check in on every single person who has one of his GPS monitors around their ankle in real time.

“We have to constantly track them,” Bennett says. “Our system actually gives us an alarm and actually tells us when they are actually doing something wrong.”

Bennett Monitoring Services is dedicated to making sure defendants are following their bond conditions and house arrest terms, according to Bennett. They’ve invested in upgraded GPS anklets and more advanced tracking technology.

“We have to protect the victim as best we can at all times,” he says.

But there are bad apples when it comes to bond companies and GPS monitoring services, Bennett says.

“It’s three elements that’s actually made a difference in the last 4 or 5 years, which is the money, the quality of the equipment and not having respect for the judicial system,” he says.

The money, Wilson agrees, is a major issue with the system. Defendants are the ones who pay for their GPS monitor, and they pay directly to the bondsmen. Turning in a defendant would only make a bond company lose money, according to Wilson.

“It’s a moneymaker to have people out on these bonds, paying for the GPS monitor, and there’s not much of an incentive to turn them in,” she says.

When it comes to oversight of these bond companies—and who’s making sure they’re actually keeping track of their defendants—the courts are really the only ones who can hold them accountable, according to Bennett.

“If [a defendant] is in violation and I don’t report that to the court, the court is going to have me come to court—or my staff or my representative—coming to court to answer for that,” he says.

The 9th Circuit Solicitor’s Office has tried to take bond companies to court for ignoring defendants’ violations, according to Wilson, but they have faced some obstacles recently.

“That’s been a real challenge for getting into court [for hearings],” she says. “We’ve had some success over the years, but not recently. We have many motions still pending.”

So with little oversight of bond companies and—in some cases little oversight of the defendants themselves—it’s victims like Bess as well as her family that ultimately suffer.

“Seems to me like we’re dealing with multiple system failures that has allowed someone who, certainly is a threat to our family and a danger to our daughter, allowed to be mobile and move around the community,” Darren Bess says. “You’re sitting here going, ‘Where’s the justice in all of this?’”

Turner pleaded guilty to a lesser charge, first-degree assault and battery, in Bess’ case in early April as part of a deal with prosecutors. The sexual assault case preceding Bess’ was dismissed because the victim died last fall and was not allowed to testify, according to her family.

Turner was sentenced to 5 years of probation. He was arrested again Monday for disorderly conduct, according to court records. A judge denied bond for him.

If you have a story idea or news tip for Live 5 Investigates, call our investigative tip line at 843-402-5678 or email us at tips@live5news.com.

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