Miami Herald.com Posted on Mon, Sep. 10, 2007 Dade suspect creates stir over house arrest program BY DAVID OVALLE After a slaying last month in Miami, a recent carjacking and high-speed chase in Hialeah, suspect James Joseph Powell found himself in the hospital wounded by a police bullet. Detectives noticed something immediately: He was wearing an ankle monitor. Powell, 20, they learned, was already facing trial for armed robbery but had been freed from jail under an electronic monitoring program that allows authorities to track the whereabouts of suspected criminals. Powell's case has infuriated police and prosecutors at a time when Miami-Dade judges are considering sending more criminal suspects into the program to ease the county's overcrowded jails. Miami-Dade Corrections & Rehabilitation Department, the nation's sixth-largest jail system, says it is strained to the breaking point. Corrections Director Tim Ryan said an increasing number of police operations, resulting in arrests ranging from drug charges to probation violations and DUIs, have swelled jail beds in recent months. The latest figures show that Miami-Dade's jail population has hovered between 7,200 and more than 7,400, well above its 6,005 capacity. A new jail can't be built until at least 2012. Adding to the problem: The closing of the North Dade Detention Center, which housed some 100 work-release and weekend-only inmates. They are now housed at the Training and Treatment Center, a low-security facility in West Miami--Dade. The North Dade facility was closed in response to tax cuts that threatened the county budget. The surge in jail population is causing so much concern that late last month Miami-Dade Corrections chief counsel Tyrone Williams contacted Chief Administrative Judge Stanford Blake for help. In an e-mail to fellow judges, Blake wrote: ``If at all possible, try to be creative in bonds and sentences -- especially misdemeanors.'' In an interview, Blake stressed that the suggestion is intended for nonviolent offenders. Alternatives to jail, he said, include house arrest and faith-based programs that take in defendants nearly done with their sentences. The ankle-monitor program is viewed as a viable alternative. Currently, more than 200 inmates are signed up. The jail says it can handle more than 400. Jailers defend the ankle-monitor release program, saying there is always a risk when someone is let out behind bars. A monitoring program relying on a real-time Global Positioning System would likely prove too expensive, officials said. ''It's a good program as long as the right people are in it,'' Corrections Assistant Director Marydell Guevara said. Said Hialeah Deputy Chief Orlando Aguilera on Powell's release under the monitoring system: ``In this particular case, it was a complete and utter failure.'' Powell was first arrested and charged with armed robbery on May 21 by Opa-Locka police. Armed robbery is usually a non-bondable offense. Powell was afforded an Arthur hearing, where a judge weighed whether he was a flight risk or would pose a danger to the community. Because Powell had no previous arrests, Judge Fred Seraphin allowed him to be released under the pre-trial release ankle-monitoring program. The program is known as a ''passive'' system. An inmate wears an unremovable ankle monitor and, while outside his home, a clip-on device that resembles a pager. The devices do not transmit an inmates' whereabouts in real time. When an inmate is home, he connects the clip-on device to a docking station. Through a phone line, it transmits to jailers a record of his whereabouts while he was on the streets. In Powell's case, he had clearance to leave his home to work at Wal-Mart from 1 p.m. to midnight on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. On Saturday, he visited his case manager and on Sundays was allowed to attend church from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The computer data on his whereabouts is usually only examined if something suspicious is flagged. For example, if the pager-like device is not docked while he is supposed to be home, an alert is sent via computer. If the pager device is separated from the ankle bracelet, an alert is sent. An employer is asked to call the jail if an inmate fails to show. Jail officers can also make surprise job-site checks. Powell had been a model participant under the jail's ankle-monitor release program. Officers never noticed anything in the data transmitted by the Global Positioning System ankle monitor that spelled trouble, Corrections Assistant Director Marydell Guevara said. ''He was always present in 23 field visits. He was always at work or at home. He also made all 21 of his office visits,'' she said. This was Powell's second stint in the program. On Nov. 13, he visited a job-training center but arrived home late -- by 10 minutes. The jail terminated him from the program. Judge Mark Leban later allowed him back on it. Jail officials say they are now reviewing all his computer data. On the night of the Miami slaying, he should have been at Wal-Mart. Police want to review the data, too. They want to know if he and his friends have been involved in other crimes when he was not home. Miami homicide detectives say they are sure of this crime: On the night of Aug. 20, police say Powell and two buddies, Venices Hawkins, 20, and Davown Drayton, 19, pulled a fatal robbery. Miguel Fundora, 21, was in his car parked in front of 2335 NW 29th St., talking to two female friends. The car was in drive. Suddenly, a blue Geo Metro driven by Powell pulled up. Hawkins and Drayton jumped out. They began robbing the women of jewelry. Inexplicably, Fundora jumped out of his car and ran. The vehicle lurched forward, swiping the gunmen's car and crashing on the sidewalk. Detectives say Drayton chased Fundora, fatally shooting him. Drayton and Hawkins jumped back in the Geo and sped off. Two hours later, Drayton was pulled over in the Geo by Miami-Dade police on a traffic stop. Unaware of the robbery and shooting that had just occurred in Miami, the county police found a TEC-9 and a .22 caliber pistol; investigators believe the second gun was used to kill Fundora. County authorities charged Drayton with carrying a concealed weapon -- but he was soon released from jail on his own recognizance. Meanwhile, homicide investigators in Miami got a break on Aug. 30 the robbery and fatal shooting. That afternoon, jail officials say, Powell called Wal-Mart for the first time to say he was running late. Police say Powell drove Drayton and Hawkins past 451 W. 28th St. and saw two people sitting in a Dodge Magnum. Hialeah police say Drayton stole their jewelry and money at gunpoint and ordered them out of their car. Drayton drove off in the stolen car. Both cars led Hialeah police on a high-speed chase that ended when the men ditched the vehicles in Opa-locka and ran. Police say Drayton pointed a gun at officers. Hialeah Detective Luis Garcia fired at the men in self-defense, hitting and wounding Powell, the department said. Sgt. Richard Beato also fired but missed. Drayton and Hawkins ran off but were later arrested after a neighborhood search. Police say Hawkins confessed and told them about the killing of Fundora. Detectives say Powell admitted being the get-away driver in Fundora's shooting and in the Hialeah carjacking. Officials in Miami-Dade's criminal justice system are now firing off letters and e-mails, setting up meetings and brainstorming ways to address the overcrowding problem at the jails. Ryan, the corrections director, and his chief counsel, Williams, met with Judge Blake on Thursday and plan another meeting later in the month. Ryan plans to draft a letter to local police chiefs explaining the overcrowding problem and warning of delays at the jails. ''We're trying to work together,'' Blake said. Said Miami homicide Lt. John Buhrmaster: ``All we keep doing is putting them in, and they keep letting them out. It makes our job tougher and look who suffers: a kid who did nothing but run away.'' Meanwhile, State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle last week sent a letter to Chief Judge Joseph Farina expressing concerns that the jail's problem will mean more inmates like Powell will be allowed out on non-bondable offenses.