Tracking system alerted Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office to problems with teen’s ankle monitor, report says

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The Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office was alerted that a teenager wearing an ankle monitor had strayed outside of his allowable area a few hours before the monitor lost communication with the tracking system, according to a preliminary report by the company that supplies the monitoring services. That alert came on Monday, one day before the teenager was allegedly involved in a violent crime spree in the Uptown area.

Sheriff Marlin Gusman said earlier in the week that the 14-year-old’s ankle monitor had malfunctioned, keeping his office from tracking the teen’s location and movements. It was unclear at the time when the device had stopped working.

“Omnilink’s system generated the automated alerts as expected to the correct Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office email address, and the Omnilink Monitoring Center provided the human backup to ensure the alerts were received by Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office,” the report says.

Omnilink Systems, based in Alpharetta, Ga., provides the equipment for the city’s electronic monitoring system. The Sheriff’s Office took over the program in 2010 and is responsible for oversight and enforcement.

“The Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office continues to investigate the monitoring equipment worn by a juvenile arrested Oct. 2,” Gusman said in a news release Friday evening. “We received a preliminary report yesterday from Omnilink that included a timeline of events. This report also listed the next steps that need to be taken to better determine the causes of this incident.”

Omnilink’s one-page report provides a timeline of events with the ankle monitor.

gusman.jpg Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman said his office is investigating the ankle monitoring system. Michael DeMocker, Times-Picayune archive

The teenager, who had been arrested on a marijuana possession charge, was first placed on monitoring just after 1 p.m. on Sept. 26. But the device had to be replaced the next day because of communication problems with the system’s computer servers, according to the report.

Four days later, on Monday, the system sent out an automated email alert to the Sheriff’s Office after the monitor was detected outside of the allowable zone at 8:48 p.m. That email alert was followed up with a phone call from monitors, according to the report.

A few hours later, the monitoring center again emailed and called the Sheriff’s Office after the device lost communication and could no longer be located, according to the report. Those events occurred just after 11 p.m. Monday.

The report does not indicate whether the device was ever located again.

Starting Tuesday evening, police have said, the teenager and two other youths went on a violent crime spree in the Uptown area. The teenager was arrested Wednesday along with a 16-year-old in connection with a carjacking and armed robbery; they are also suspects in a shooting that left a 53-year-old man in critical condition. The third youth remains at large.

The report from Omnilink says that “no communication alerts are not uncommon and are caused when the device cannot communicate with cell towers for a variety of reasons, such as cellular network issues.”

It recommends a further investigation including:

— A diagnostic review of the ankle monitoring, including testing a different monitor inside the teenager’s house to look for the same communication problems.

— A check for any problems with the Sprint cellular network.

— A joint review with the Sheriff’s Office to ensure that there are no gaps in response for alerts.

Gusman said his office is working with Omnilink to prepare a more comprehensive report about the incident and the entire monitoring program.

“Any comments about this matter without accurate information are either speculation or misinformation,” he added in his statement.

The New Orleans City Council’s Criminal Justice Committee said Wednesday that it has been gathering information about failures in the monitoring system for six months.

“In order to assure that the public is protected as well as assure that the city’s continued  financial commitment to this program is appropriate, the City Council Criminal Justice Committee pledges to work with the administration, district attorney, judges, sheriff and inspector general in an investigation of the electronic monitoring program,” the committee said in a news release.

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