BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. - For eight months, a judge ordered a 13-year-old boy to stay inside his home with an electronic monitor strapped to his ankle. The order came as his alleged victim, a 10-year-old girl, worried if her accused sexual assaulter would harm her again.
The boy, charged with raping the 10-year-old girl, was allowed to go to school and counseling, but that was it. He was not allowed to have any contact with the victim, who lived only a few blocks away from him.
But the Boynton Beach boy did not follow the rules set by a judge. An investigation by Contact 5 found the 13-year-old violated his ankle monitor hundreds of times and reportedly violated a protective order by threatening the victim's family.
"A hundred violations, that's so difficult for me to fathom," said retired judge Ron Alvarez, who sat on the bench in Palm Beach County for nearly 20 years. Alvarez primarily oversaw juvenile cases and said he never saw that many violations from one case when he was on the bench.
"Extreme case? Any time that a child's welfare is an issue, it's an extreme case," Alvarez said.
Boynton Beach Police officers arrested the boy, along with a 10-year-old boy, in June 2017 for raping the 10-year-old girl. The boys were released to their parents' custody and ordered to wear the ankle monitors as experts evaluated them to see if they were competent to stand trial.
The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) recommends youth be placed on an ankle monitor as an alternative to secure detention, otherwise known as juvenile jail.
According to a policy memo from the DJJ, minors should not be given an ankle monitor if they are under 13 years old, have demonstrated a threat to public safety or are pending competency reviews.
"I hate to use the term hundreds," said the 13-year-old's juvenile probation officer Robert Pagano at a recent court hearing. "But I'd have to say hundreds of times he's violated the monitor." Pagano works for the DJJ and testified he primarily deals with intake kids, children who have not yet had their case adjudicated by the court.
According to the policy memo, Pagano is responsible for tracking the 13-year-old's compliance with the monitor and reporting any violations to Judge James Martz. Pagano testified the boy did well on the ankle monitor from June to October, but in November, the boy was found to be developmentally immature and deemed incompetent to stand trial.
After that, Pagano testified the ankle monitor violations began pouring in.
"I've told him numerous times, [when he] goes outside, I fear for his safety," said Pagano. In December, a bullet grazed the boy while he was violating his house arrest conditions. The boy testified he wanted to see a fight outside a local market when the bullet hit him.
"The most violations I ever tolerated were five or six," Alvarez said. He's an advocate for reforming juvenile justice and served on the Children's Services Council of Palm Beach County for nearly two decades. "I do not know how this fell off the railroad tracks."
According to the DJJ's memo, juvenile probation officers must report all ankle monitor violations to the court. What happens after that is up to a judge.
"When I see an alert at 2 a.m, I mean, I literally have to turn my phone off. I need to sleep," Pagano testified.
That response shocked Alvarez.
"Really? To turn off the phone because you're getting too many calls? I mean, that's like a 911 operator saying, 'I'm not going to answer that. That thing keeps ringing all the time!' The alarm goes off and you silenced your phone?" Alvarez said.
The policy memo says if the violation comes in after hours, a juvenile probation officer can respond the next business day. However, since most juvenile criminal records are exempt from public record, the court would not tell Contact 5 if the "hundreds of violations" were ever reported to the judge or how they may have been handled.
After the 13-year-old was deemed incompetent, Martz ordered more monitoring while the boy went to local competency counseling.
"We as a department don't feel that the youth pending competency...should be on detention status, but we respect the court and would carry out the court's order," Pagano testified.
Through a records request, Contact 5 learned juveniles in the state of Florida spend an average of 26 days on an electronic monitor, but that average can vary drastically county by county. The average length of stay on an electronic monitor in Palm Beach County is 30 days; an average which ranked 22nd in counties across the state.
(Keep scrolling to see how often juveniles wear electronic monitors in your county.)
"The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice works collaboratively with the court and law enforcement to ensure that youth court-ordered to electronic-monitoring are appropriately supervised and held accountable when violations occur." Florida DJJ Secretary Christina K. Daly said in a statement.
According to Alvarez, the juvenile court system is supposed to help rehabilitate children charged with crimes, not necessarily punish them. However, Alvarez agrees, even children who violate court orders, like hundreds of ankle monitor violations, are supposed to be held accountable.
In February, officers brought the boy back into the juvenile detention center for his violations, and the Palm Beach County State Attorney's Office asked Martz to move him into a residential facility for behavior treatment.
"He is ungovernable, unmanageable, and dangerous; dangerous to himself, dangerous to the community," Martz said.
After eight months of monitoring and hundreds of violations, Martz decided to revoke the monitor. "The conditions imposed at the time of release, they do not sufficiently protect the community. I've had to address those release conditions over a period of incompetency on a number of occasions."
Martz ordered the boy to be treated at the state's only juvenile competency center, more than 400 miles away from the victim.
Check out how often juveniles wear ankle monitors in your county, compared to the rest of the state. If you can't see the graphic below, click here.
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