Almost two months after the state began tracking a handful of reputed Nashville gang members, two people have gone back to jail, at least three have gotten out from under the tracking, and defense attorneys have begun challenging the practice.
The Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole in early March unveiled a program with Metro police to track 10 identified gang members on parole or probation at all times with ankle-mounted GPS units. The 10, chosen for what law enforcement says is their affiliation with the Bloods, the Crips, the Gangster Disciples or the Vice Lords, have had their every move tracked by probation officers and Metro police gang detectives to ensure they don't enter "exclusion zones." Those are areas their respective gangs have been known to frequent.
Police hailed the pilot as a success and are prepping a list of additional suspected gang members who have been convicted of crimes who may go under GPS monitoring.
"It hampers the kind of criminal activity that they like to be involved in," said Lt. Gordon Howey, head of Metro police's Gang Unit. "Some of their gang member associates have said, 'Hey, you have that monitor on your ankle, and I don't want to be anywhere around you.' From our standpoint, I think it's an excellent program."
Some clients removed
But defense attorneys have succeeded, to some extent, in persuading judges to remove their clients from the GPS monitoring. On Thursday, Jeremy Braddy successfully petitioned to get out from under the program, at least temporarily. Braddy was convicted of robbery in 2007, and police have said he was a member of the Crips.
In court records, defense attorney Sunny Eaton complained that a judge, not probation officers, should be determining Braddy's probation terms and that there was no proof that Braddy was even a gang member.
"To place Mr. Braddy on GPS monitoring, without cause, and without an order from this honorable court is a violation of his due process rights and outside the conditions agreed or imposed upon Mr. Braddy by the court as part of his original sentence," she wrote.
Howey said that Braddy won't be GPS monitored for now and will be given a chance to talk with police and clear up whether he has a gang affiliation.
"By all indications, he seems to have at this point tried to do right," Howey said. "We'll give him the opportunity and see.''
Eaton could not be reached for comment Thursday.
The Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole said it has the authority to put suspected gang members under GPS monitoring without a judge's approval and was perplexed by the legal challenges.
"This is a pilot program, and its purpose is to determine whether this type of monitoring is helpful in deterring crime," said board spokeswoman Melissa McDonald. "Any issues that arise are things we'll make note of as we monitor the progress of the pilot."
Two other suspected gang members have gotten out from under GPS monitoring. Akeem Baker, a suspected Blood convicted of a weapons offense, fulfilled the conditions of his probation and was released from those conditions. Because of a paperwork error, Charles Cheatham also was able to have the GPS provision removed before the Board of Probation and Parole could announce the program.
Several criteria used
Nashville attorney Ron Vrablik represents Alysa Meas, who was convicted of assault and who police have said is affiliated with the Vice Lords gang. Vrablik said that no proof was ever offered that Meas was a gang member and that her crime wasn't gang-related. He questioned whether the community is truly being protected by so heavily monitoring a person convicted of a simple assault.
"She has a simple assault and driving on suspended license charges. I would say definitively, 'No,' " he said. "This is not justice. I feel that this program was enacted hastily and executed poorly."
Vrablik declined to say whether he would challenge Meas' monitoring.
Howey said that Metro police look at several criteria in labeling someone as a gang member, including associations, clothing, tattoos and self-admissions over the prior three years.
Today, attorney Richard McGee is scheduled in court to ask a judge to let another person out from under the GPS program. His client, Mario Polk, was convicted on a cocaine charge, and police say he is a member of the Bloods. But McGee said Polk was never given a chance to challenge whether he was ever in a gang.
"Someone other than a judge is imposing a condition of probation, and you're not being given an opportunity to address this allegation of being a gang member," McGee said. "So what is the basis of this allegation that you're involved in a gang? At least give an opportunity to contest it."
McClatchy-Tribune News Service