By Michael Dayton
A Colorado company that removed an electronic monitor from a Pickens County criminal suspect shortly before he murdered a Clemson woman has agreed to settle a lawsuit for nearly $1 million.
Behavioral Interventions, Inc. denied liability for the woman’s killing but agreed to a $975,000 settlement with her estate, which had originally asked for up to $15 million. The case, which settled in April, was submitted to Lawyers Weekly last month by the estate’s attorney, Chuck Allen of Anderson.
According to the plaintiff’s complaint, BI Inc. employee George Clifton “Spanky” Amick II was responsible for monitoring the criminal suspect, Preston Devon Johnson, but fell short in his duties.
Johnson was placed under house arrest after a February 1999 bond hearing, and Amick personally installed a monitoring device. Documents that Allen obtained during discovery revealed Amick failed to report hundreds of Johnson’s curfew violations over the next 13 months.
The complaint also alleged Amick removed Johnson’s monitoring device without properly notifying court officials. The reason the device was removed, according to Allen: Amick feared Johnson would flee while wearing the $5,000 ankle bracelet.
In its answer, BI Inc. asserted Amick contacted several court and law enforcement officials to advise them that he was removing the monitoring device but got the runaround.
Three weeks after the bracelet was removed, Johnson murdered 32-year-old Clara Laverne Terry in her home.
The settlement in Moody v. BI Incorporated (Pickens County Court of Common Pleas; Case No. 2002-CP-39-1893) highlights a developing area of the law, according to Allen.
“There will be a proliferation of these electronic monitoring cases, given the high cost of incarceration and the fiscal crisis that the states have been in over the last several years,” Allen told Lawyers Weekly.
Columbia attorney William C. McDow, the local attorney for BI Inc., said the corporation stood by its answer and other filings in the case.
“We pled lack of proximate cause and also filed a motion for summary judgment in the case,” he told Lawyers Weekly.
McDow referred other questions to BI Inc. Monica Hook, the company’s marketing communications manager, declined to discuss details about the South Carolina settlement.
Law enforcement officials tout electronic monitoring as a low-cost alternative to incarceration. By installing an electronic sensor that transmits data to a central computer, officials can track individuals under house arrest. If an offender goes beyond the authorized radius of the sensor’s receiver, the computer records the date and time of the signal’s disappearance.
According to the plaintiff’s complaint, Johnson was arrested in September 1998 and charged with assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature, criminal sexual conduct and armed robbery. Following a bond hearing on Feb. 25, 1999, the Pickens County Circuit Court placed Johnson under house arrest with electronic monitoring.
In his deposition, Amick said he was contacted by Jane King, the clerk of Clemson Municipal Court, who asked Amick to electronically monitor Johnson. King confirmed that fact in a telephone call.
The ankle bracelet installed by Amick had an authorized radius of 150 feet around Johnson’s house. He was permitted to come and go during certain hours.
According to Allen, over the next year BI’s monitoring reports indicated Johnson had between 300 and 400 curfew violations. In his deposition, Amick said it was not unusual to see those kinds of violations if an individual had several jobs, as Johnson did.
Thirteen months after the initial bond hearing, Johnson came up for a bond revocation hearing in March 2000.
“Had BI reported those 300 curfew violations to the Circuit Court at the revocation hearing, they probably would have revoked his bond,” Allen said. “Our expert said in her deposition that they should have made the court aware of that — when there are violations like that, you’re supposed to sound the alarm and get that person reincarcerated. But BI didn’t report it to anyone.”
A few weeks after the bond revocation hearing, Amick wrote to Johnson and warned him about his delinquent account. In his deposition, Amick said Johnson’s payment history to BI Inc. was “horrible.” Johnson was charged $7.50 daily for his monitoring device. At one point, he was $1,000 in arrears, Amick testified.
During his deposition, Amick cited a financial reason for removing the monitor from Johnson, according to Allen.
“The thrust of what Amick said in his deposition was that he was worried that Mr. Johnson was about to abscond,” Allen said. “He said his first priority was to save the monitoring equipment. So he took the equipment off of him and never took the proper steps to report that. He claimed he tried to call the solicitor, but that wasn’t proper protocol under BI’s own rules. Under industry standards, BI should have reported the removal to court officials, not the solicitor’s office.”
Ralph Lee Gleaton II, formerly an assistant solicitor in Pickens County, was deposed in December 2003 and recalled speaking with Amick in 2000 about Johnson’s electronic monitoring.
“Amick informed me that Johnson was wandering from the bounds of wherever he was supposed to be with his electronic equipment on,” Gleaton said in his deposition. “He told me that folks who did this would tear up his equipment and he was very concerned [about] his equipment. That he was going to retrieve the equipment and he just wanted to inform me.”
On May 23, 2000, while under house arrest but after his monitoring device had been removed, Johnson used a claw hammer to murder Terry. Johnson was convicted of murder in 2002 and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
In its lawsuit, the estate maintained that BI Inc. failed to monitor and supervise Johnson according to industry standards. The estate also alleged the monitoring equipment was removed without the consent of court officials.
“Had the defendant properly monitored Preston Devon Johnson or properly notified the authorities of the cessation of the court-ordered electronic monitoring, the violent murder … would never have occurred,” the complaint alleged.
In its answer, BI Inc. asserted several attempts to notify court officials had been made. Before removing the monitoring device, Amick called the Clemson Municipal Court, the Clerk of Court, the Chief Magistrate’s Office and the Solicitor’s Office, the answer states.
Founded in 1978 and headquartered in Boulder, Colo., BI Inc. pioneered the electronic monitoring industry for supervising offenders in the community, according to the company’s website. BI Inc. has 570 employees in more than 40 locations throughout the United States.
BI Inc. currently provides approximately 2,500 governmental agencies nationwide with electronic monitoring technology, supervision services from a national monitoring center, community-based treatment services, and re-entry programs.
In May 2003, the company sold off 60 percent of its 120 offices — including the one at issue in theMoody case — to another corporation, Maximus. Officials with Maximus could not be reached.