On the morning of Nov. 9, 22-year-old Rashad Hall cut off an electronic monitoring bracelet and walked out of his Columbia home.
Within minutes, police say, Hall was one of four men firing guns inside a Wells Fargo bank on the corner of Two Notch and Parklane roads.
The bracelet was supposed to keep Hall at home as he awaited trial on three other armed robbery charges.
But no alarms were sounded when he cut the bracelet, which was issued by a bond company, authorities have said.
Now, Fifth Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson, Columbia Police Chief Randy Scott and Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott are on the verge of requesting stepped-up electronic monitoring for those who are released on bond.
But they want law enforcement to have more control of the system.
Their plan comes as residents in communities hit particularly hard by crime are calling on police to crack down on suspects who continue to commit crimes after they are released from jail on a bond.
Twice this fall, the issue has been raised in meetings in the Eau Claire community, including one instance in which a man held a list of 25 such people that he had tracked from police reports.
However, defense attorneys object to law enforcement having more power over people who are accused — but not convicted — of a crime.
String of robberies
Hall’s alleged crime spree over the past 18 months is a perfect example of what upsets city residents.
In July 2011, Hall allegedly was involved in three armed robberies in which he held victims at gunpoint while stealing money, wallets and cell phones. In all three cases, Hall committed the alleged crimes with at least one other person.
On July 13, he was charged with robbing an O’Reilly Auto Parts store on Two Notch Road, where he and another defendant forced employees at gunpoint to lie on the floor, according to an arrest warrant.
In the second case, Hall was charged in a July 22, 2011, armed robbery in which he helped a man hide in the meat department of a Food Lion grocery store until closing time. He and the other man allegedly used duct tape to tie three men’s hands behind their backs and forced them inside an office at gunpoint to steal $6,000. After his arrest, Hall tried to flee from an investigator during questioning at the Columbia Police Department but was wrestled to the ground and handcuffed, according to arrest warrants.
Two days later, Hall and another man allegedly used guns to hold up a store on Garners Ferry Road in which they are accused of forcing a woman into a restroom and holding a second victim on the ground. They allegedly stole cell phones, wallets and $60, the arrest warrant said.
In September, Hall’s attorney requested a bond hearing before Circuit Court Judge Deandrea G. Benjamin on charges in the July incidents.
Benjamin gave Hall $125,000 bond and placed him on house arrest with electronic monitoring.
When Hall popped off the monitoring bracelet on the morning of Nov. 9 that the bond company had placed on him, no alarms were triggered — and police did not know he was on the loose.
During the bank robbery, Hall and three others allegedly entered with guns blazing and ordered 15 employees and customers to the floor.
The men fired their guns at police as they fled the bank and then continued to shoot at officers during a car chase down Parklane Road. By day’s end, one of the four was killed by police and the other three, including Hall, were charged with 15 counts of kidnapping, armed robbery and three counts of attempted murder.
Johnson, Scott and Lott all endorse the idea of electronic monitoring on some suspects who are on bond.
The Hall case illustrates why they want more control over the monitoring. They want one company that would centralize all electronic monitoring in the county. Now, bond companies oversee electronic monitoring when a judge orders it.
“That’s why I want to use one company because I think it’s a sham,” Johnson said. “No one is monitoring it. There’s no real teeth in it.”
But the bondsman who oversaw Hall’s release said there is no guarantee that police monitoring would have stopped his client’s alleged participation in the robbery.
“They’re going to have the same problems everyone else has,” said Nate Harrell, the bondsman. “Someone can cut the monitor off in their front yard and be gone to rob a bank before anyone finds them.”
While Harrell helped Hall secure the $12,500 needed to be released on a $125,000 bond, he said another company monitored the electronic bracelet. Efforts to reach representatives from that company were unsuccessful.
Electronic monitoring would not be appropriate for every person who is arrested and it would be up to a judge to decide who would need it, Johnson said. The suspect would pay for the monitoring so the plan should not bring an extra cost to the public, he said. The potential cost to the defendant has not been determined.
Scott said they have been studying monitoring systems that would require suspects to log on to a machine in their homes as they come and go. And it would have the capability to make video recordings of DUI suspects taking breath tests before leaving their homes.
And, most importantly, any monitoring system would need to alert authorities if a suspect cuts off a monitoring bracelet, Johnson said.
“If they break it off, we’re the ones who have to deal with it,” Lott said.
But it will be up to the judges to order defendants to use the systems.
Bonds are a constitutional right. Their purpose is to assure that a person shows up for his court date. Releasing people on bond also relieves overcrowding at county jails.
Most bonds are set by county-level magistrates and city judges, while circuit court judges set bond in more serious cases, such as murder. The judges follow guidelines that set maximum amounts, said Richland County Magistrate Kirby Shealy.
Magistrates consider the severity of the charges, the person’s criminal history as well as the likelihood that person might skip town, Shealy said. If a defendant already has pending charges, the bond should be higher, or possibly revoked.
“It’s a balance,” Shealy said.
Fifth Circuit Public Defender Douglas Strickler said he is opposed to law enforcement’s monitoring of the whereabouts of those waiting for trial. Police already are trying to put people in jail so monitoring should be left to the courts, which are impartial in legal cases, he said.
“I’ve got a lot of questions of how it would work,” Strickler said. “The old term ‘the fox guarding the henhouse’ comes to mind with this.”
Hall’s defense attorney, John Mobley, confirmed that his client was wearing a monitoring bracelet the morning of the Wells Fargo robbery. But he said prosecutors have not presented evidence that places his client at the scene of the crime. No one has picked Hall out of a line-up, and he did not have a weapon or the bank’s money in his possession when he was arrested, Hall said.
Mobley, too, is opposed to law enforcement monitoring people who are on bond.
“Law enforcement often have these ideas where they try to get us closer to living in a police state,” Mobley said. “That’s a court function, not a law enforcement function.”
Reach Phillips at (803) 771-8307.