Escaped inmate sparks ankle bracelet controversy


By Sharna Johnson

An 18-year-old escaped inmate is the object of a police manhunt and the center of a developing controversy in a defendant monitoring program.

Police are searching for Fermin Rodriguez, who is accused of cutting off his electronic ankle bracelet and escaping Tuesday, according to Curry County Jail Administrator Lois Bean.

Tuesday night just before 10 p.m., an alternative sentencing officer noticed Rodriguez was out of the jail’s monitoring range, Bean said Friday.

“He didn’t have permission to leave his home at that time,” Bean said.

“That’s when they went to check on him and he was gone. … He cut it off and took off.”

District Attorney Matt Chandler said Rodriguez was indicted in December for robbery and battery and is awaiting trial.

Chandler had sharp criticism for the jail’s electronic monitoring program.

“Placing violent offenders on a community release program puts our community back at risk and we have explained that to jail administrators in the past and it has fallen on deaf ears,” Chandler said.

The district attorney’s office, he said, has long been opposed to violent, repeat, DWI or narcotics offenders being released on the ankle bracelet program.

“The Curry County Detention Center has advised law enforcement that we have no say in who gets put on the ankle bracelet,” Chandler said. “(But) it’s the district attorney’s office, not the jail, that has to go to the victims of the crime and explain to them that their offender is nowhere to be found.”

Chandler said the program had the support of law enforcement when it was initially started, and it “has its benefits if it’s given to nonviolent offenders (who) would simply sit in jail for four months waiting on a trial for simply stealing a candy bar.”

“But they have taken the decision that they are going to place other types of offenders on the program. … When you start providing it to people that are violent and have a history of violent offenses, it just puts the community right back at risk. ”

Bean, who started as administrator in December, said she has not had an opportunity to thoroughly review the ankle bracelet program at the jail but intends to, especially in light of Rodriguez’ escape.

She said she also plans to confer with law enforcement and the district attorney’s office on the issue.

“My prior experience with ankle bracelets and (home detention) has been a pretty good one. I am for it, but I feel like we just have to just touch it up a little bit,” she said.

“I am looking forward to sitting down with the district attorney.”

Assistant Administrator Audrey Barriga said 222 inmates have participated in the ankle bracelet program since it came under management of the jail in 2006.

Of those, Barriga said 181 completed the program successfully and 41 were returned to the jail for violating the program’s rules.

Among the violators, five were charged with escape for tampering with the ankle bracelets but were caught quickly when the tampering was discovered. Only one, a woman in 2006, was gone any significant amount of time before being returned to custody.

Barriga added that the program must be approved by a judge when it comes to violent offenders.

“I think this is a very tough program. It’s a tight program,” Barriga said.

Rodriguez was on a bracelet that alerted officers if he crossed outside a radius set around his home, Barriga said.

Rodriguez had been on the program about a week and was in the process of looking for a job, one of the requirements of the program, Barriga said.

Barriga said the program has saved the county about $630,000 in housing and overhead costs in the two years it has been operating.

Thursday the Curry County Sheriff’s Department filed an arrest warrant for Rodriguez on misdemeanor charges of escape from the custody of a community release program and criminal damage under $1,000.