Charleston Police praise GPS ankle monitor program, say it could expand

The program is designed to hold a select number of defendants accountable, help them get their lives back on track and prevent them from reoffending.
Published: May. 15, 2023 at 4:45 PM EDT|Updated: May. 15, 2023 at 10:42 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - It’s been eight months since GPS monitors were first put on defendants’ ankles as part of the Charleston Police Department’s electronic monitoring program for violent offenders, and leaders behind program say they have seen success in a variety of ways.

The program is designed to hold a select number of defendants accountable, help them get their lives back on track and prevent them from reoffending.

This comes as communities across the Lowcountry, and the state have seen violent defendants out on bond blatantly violating that bond, sometimes even committing other crimes.

In Berkeley County, there’s Aubrey Tucker who was out on bond with an ankle monitor for one murder in 2021 when 10 months later, authorities say he murdered someone else—his girlfriend.

“He took out a good person,” Erika Gaines, the victim’s mother, said. “It was somebody who meant something in the world.”

In Orangeburg County, there’s the case of Bowen Turner that made national headlines. As a teen, Turner was accused of one sexual assault. While authorities were investigating that, he was arrested for a second sexual assault. While on bond for that, he was accused of a third sexual assault. Documents show later, while out on bond with an ankle monitor, he violated his house arrest dozens of times to go to golf courses, restaurants and even across state lines.

“To me, it’s definitely just a slap in the face,” Chloe Bess, one of Turner’s victims, said.

In Georgetown County, there’s Ryan Woodruff who allegedly shot and killed a 19-year-old in January of 2023 while out on bond for a 2021 double murder.

“Angry? [I’m] past angry,” Seccoya Middleton, the teen victim’s mother, said.

Solicitors, victim advocates and Lt. Heath King with the Charleston Police Department say our state’s bond system plays a major part in allowing defendants to violate bond and potentially reoffend.

“There’s been a gap historically,” King said.

In South Carolina, when a defendant is released on bond, ordered to wear a GPS ankle monitor and given restrictions on where they’re allowed to go, bond companies are in charge of monitoring the location of that defendant. Some bond companies do a great job of keeping track of defendants and turning in their violations but not all of them do, King said. The problem is these private businesses make money off each ankle monitor, so if they turn in a defendant for violating bond, they lose money.

“It’s really a math problem,” King said. “If you’re making $300 off of somebody that you’re monitoring, and you report them for doing stuff they’re not supposed to do and they go back to jail, the bondsman or the monitoring agent just lost $300.”

This gap in the system is why King said he started the Charleston Police Department’s electronic monitoring program.

“It’s a violent offender focused program to hold folks accountable for their court orders while they’re out on bond for violent crimes,” he said.

The program focuses on repeat violent offenders—defendants who have been charged multiple times for crimes such as murder, attempted murder and assaults, according to King.

“Most of them are involved in some type of a shooting or something, but again, what we focus on is the repeat offenders,” King said. “Gun violence is kind of the top priority.”

It was September when GPS monitors were first put on defendants’ ankles and when Officer Sarah Smith began monitoring the locations of some of the city’s most violent defendants.

“We do have people we need to hold accountable, and that we’re responsible for every single day,” she said. “We have very, very close contact with them. This is a 24/7 gig that we don’t take lightly.”

The program currently has 10 defendants in it. Out of the 17 total defendants they’ve had over the past 8 months, four have violated their bonds. In those cases, however, King said the program did exactly what it was supposed to do—hold the defendants accountable when they broke curfew or were in a location they weren’t supposed to be. The police department’s goal is not to rearrest defendants, according to King, but instead get information in front of a judge for them to decide how to proceed.

“We document very thoroughly and efficiently and report that back to the court,” he said.

Beyond just checking defendants’ locations, the program is designed to help them get back on track with their lives.

“There’s a lot of mentoring going on as well,” Smith said. “We’re providing not only housing positions and opportunities that they can use—workforce wise as well—just being someone to be there.”

These efforts are a way to prevent crime instead of just punishing it, King said.

“If we can keep some of these guys away from the criminal element for four to six months, hopefully that’s long enough for some of them to kind of stabilize and maybe right the ship or right their trajectory and not fall back into that criminal element and continue to be a problem for all of society,” King said.

This is a city-funded pilot program, which costs about $105 per defendant per month, as well as some administrative and staffing expenses, according to King. The department is gathering a year’s worth of data to determine the path forward and decide if there’s enough value in the program to bring in more defendants and more officers to monitor to them. Still, King considers the program a success with what they’ve seen so far.

“Violent crime and criminal issues—there’s obviously not one kind of big fix, but I think this definitely would be part of a larger plan to be helpful,” he said. “I’ve been contacted by different representatives at the state level that think that this is a very valuable initiative.”