It’s absolutely tragic it took the shooting death of 22-year-old Devon Heyborne to shed light on the serious and systemic flaws of pretrial detention in Bernalillo County.
Police say Heyborne was shot and killed by 18-year-old Devin Munford during a weekend in April. Munford had been arrested by the Albuquerque Police Department in December 2020 for allegedly shooting a pistol while driving.
Bernalillo County District Attorney Raúl Torrez, who says Heyborne’s killing could have been prevented, had asked a judge to keep Munford in jail pending trial. But 2nd District Judge Clara Moran released Munford to the Pretrial Services Division and ordered him to wear a GPS ankle monitor while effectively on house arrest.
The trouble with that? Well, no one was minding the GPS system the weekend Munford reportedly stepped out of his approved zone and allegedly killed Heyborne, his former cellmate at the Metropolitan Detention Center.
Less than two days later, Munford allegedly robbed a convenience store at gunpoint, still wearing his ankle bracelet.
Has it been an open secret among Bernalillo County defendants that their ankle bracelets mean nothing outside normal business hours? Were lawyers and judges in on it?
Then there’s the 15-year-old girl who allegedly was sexually assaulted by Angello Charley while he was on pretrial detention. Charley was also ordered to wear a GPS monitor stemming from allegations he raped a woman. He, too, was under the supervision of the 2nd Judicial District Court’s Pretrial Services Division.
According to police, Charley left his approved boundaries and used social media to meet up with the 15-year-old girl. Again, no one was alerted because nobody at pretrial services was monitoring anyone’s GPS movements in real time on weekends, at night or on holidays.
In a case in August, Albuquerque police say it took 24 hours before a warrant was issued to arrest 19-year-old homicide suspect Trey Bausby after he cut off his ankle bracelet.
Thanks to some dogged reporting by KOB-TV that included requests for time cards for every 2nd Judicial District Pretrial Services Division employee over several pay periods, the station found no employee worked on evenings, weekends or holidays, resulting in dangerous lags before law enforcement was contacted after alleged offenders broke conditions of their pretrial detentions. Evening surveillance video of the workspace inside pretrial services, also requested by KOB-TV, showed no one was there.
It was a stunning revelation of incompetence and of the false sense of security the court hands to the public.
And so reports of ankle bracelet tampering, leaving approved zones or otherwise skirting pretrial monitoring didn’t get filed until the next business day.
With enough egg on its face to make an omelette that could feed an army, the New Mexico judiciary last week announced 24/7 monitoring of Bernalillo County felony defendants ordered to wear GPS ankle monitors.
And starting next month, the Administrative Office of the Courts’ newly-hired pretrial services staff will oversee the alert system Monday through Friday from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. — and on weekends and holidays. The 2nd Judicial District Court and Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court will monitor the system Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Again, about time.
A contractor with Bernalillo County operates the system that sends alerts to court pretrial services programs about possible location violations by defendants with GPS devices. The new system will issue “high alerts” when a defendant leaves a restricted area, travels to a prohibited area, violates a curfew by one hour or is suspected of tampering with or removing a GPS monitor or when the battery fails.
The Administrative Office of the Courts said when a high alert is received, monitoring staff will:
• Investigate immediately, including by calling the defendant.
• Request a bench warrant for the defendant’s arrest. On-call judges will be available to issue warrants outside usual business hours.
• Email bench warrants to law enforcement, the District Attorney’s Office and the defendant’s lawyer.
• Call the crime victim and request a welfare check by law enforcement.
• Provide law enforcement with the defendant’s last-known location based on GPS coordinates.
“This improvement supports public safety by helping courts and law enforcement respond promptly to alerts 24/7 when an electronic monitor indicates defendants violated court-imposed restrictions on their movement in the community,” said N.M. Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Vigil.
Once again, about time.
Second Judicial District Court officials say about 160 people are on electronic monitoring at any given time in Bernalillo County, so there’s a lot of potential for mischief and retaliation. The lack of 24/7 supervision has had tragic results. The new monitoring protocol will begin in Bernalillo County and expand next year to other judicial districts that have implemented pretrial services.
Is it any wonder the public has lost faith in our criminal justice system when an integral part of it operates on so-called banker’s hours? The community, taxpayers, the families of Devon Heyborne and the 15-year-old girl and countless others deserve so much better.
If defendants accused of serious violent crimes are released pending trial, they must be subject to 24/7 monitoring with immediate consequences for breaking the rules. Crime doesn’t take time off or a holiday.
Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina summed it up well when he said that if suspects aren’t held in jail, “the public deserves to know they are being closely monitored every minute they are in the community.”
And the assurance of having that knowledge goes double for their victims.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.