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UPDATE: County Mayor says 'improvements' will be made to ankle monitors program

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UPDATE: A local ankle monitoring company said the Hamilton County Correction's Department isn't the only one to stop checking alerts on nights and weekends, and it's a practice many are now calling for to change, including Hamilton County's mayor.

With a convicted murderer still on the loose after cutting off his GPS ankle monitor, Channel 3 wanted to learn more about how GPS ankle bracelets work, and how other counties are monitoring them.

"The industry standard is next day reporting, so community corrections at the end of the day are doing it correctly on the next day reporting aspect," said Scott Cranmore, Vice President of Tennessee Recovery & Monitoring.

Tennessee Recovery & Monitoring does not have a deal with Hamilton County, but it provides GPS ankle bracelets to other counties across the state.

Cranmore said Hamilton County is not the only one that only answers the call during normal business hours.

"Changes do have to be made I think," Cranmore said, "Even in our company, we've got to get back to that 24/7 because that's the only change at the end of the day that will really make a difference."

Ideally, overnight alerts should initiate contact with the offender as soon as possible.

"Hey put your monitor on charge, hey why are you out of your house, they know they're being watched, if someone knows they're being watched they're more likely to comply," he said.

In the case of Christopher Padgett, he cut off his monitor in the middle of the night, and by the next morning he was no where to be found.

Two days later Padgett was found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. He is still on the run.

"At the end of the day it's the offender's fault, the offender's the one who cut off the monitor, the offender's the one who did not comply," Cranmore said.

Cranmore showed Channel 3 the same kind of bracelet Padgett cut off. As soon as the material starts to rip, he said, an alert goes to the monitoring company.

"It's not about how easy it is to remove it, it's about what's done once it's alerts and removed," Cranmore said.

Monitoring companies can send alerts to as many people as the county wants it to.

In Hamilton County, only the offender's probation officer gets an alert.

Other counties make sure bonding companies get the alert too .

"That's why it's important to incorporate the bonding companies with the monitoring companies and give them that notifications so they have the opportunity," Cranmore said.

It's been almost two weeks since Padgett escaped and he's since been added to the TBI top ten most wanted list. There's a $1,000 reward if anyone knows where he is.

Stay with WRCBtv.com for updates to this story.


PREVIOUS STORY: The Hamilton County Mayor wants to change the ankle monitoring program nearly two weeks after  a convicted murderer escaped before he could go to prison.

Christopher Padgett cut off his ankle bracelet and ran away during his third day of trial for first degree murder. 

Padgett's escape led to the public discovery that the Hamilton County Corrections Department doesn't have anyone monitoring alerts overnight and on weekends.

We now know changes will be made to the program but that doesn't necessarily mean adding additional staff to monitor alerts 24/7.

"Everybody takes it extremely seriously, from the Judge's, to law enforcement, and certainly the correction's officers, nobody wants to see this happen," said Mayor Jim Coppinger.

If a person in Hamilton County makes bond and is ordered to wear a GPS ankle monitor --- employees with the Hamilton County Correction's Department are supposed to watch over them.
    
County government runs the pre-trial monitoring program and Mayor Coppinger said it works, most of the time.

"Generally the people that are on this system are people that are not as severe offenders," Coppinger said, "But again, people have a right to make bond."

Padgett made a $350,000 bond days before his murder trial. When he cut off his ankle bracelet the monitoring company sent a text message to the correction's department, but no one saw it until the next morning.

"Obviously there's some room for improvement, we will do that," Coppinger said, "But it's not due to lack of manpower."

The mayor acknowledges budget cuts to the correction's department in 2011 but said this is not a staffing issue.
    
He's now meeting with the monitoring company to see what can be done differently moving forward.

"We're looking at that in house, internally, we met yesterday, obviously, and we've met since then and there's been a lot of discussion today, going to have another meeting this afternoon about this."

Coppinger said everyone in his department followed protocol, a protocol he now said will change.

"Let's put the blame where it is, the criminal cut the bracelet and we need to find the criminal and put him in jail," Coppinger said.

Channel 3 is told Hamilton County judges do know there's no one in the corrections office after hours to respond to a violation and in most cases violations are handled the next business day.

This isn't the first time a criminal slipped through the cracks of the ankle monitoring program. 
   
Evay Kelley was convicted of the 1997 murder of Todd Petersen.
   
Kelley was on house arrest for gun and drug charges at the time of the murder and in court testimony for the case, officials said Kelley violated house arrest on many occasions for hours at a time and sometimes overnight. 
     
Peterson's family filed a lawsuit against the county because of the flaw in the monitoring program and they won the case in 2003. 


PREVIOUS STORY: The Hamilton County Corrections Department does not have any employees tracking ankle monitors on nights and weekends, a revelation that comes nearly two weeks after a convicted murderer cut his monitor off and ran away. 

Christopher Padgett, 22, was convicted of first degree felony murder and aggravated robbery and he's supposed to be serving a life sentence in prison.

But police don't know where Padgett is after he escaped during his third day of trial.

"They put him on a GPS monitoring requirement, I think that's reasonable for the judges, but I don't think anybody knew no one would actually be monitoring it," said Attorney Bill Speek.

An attorney for one of Padgett's bonding companies said if the company had known no one was monitoring ankle bracelet alerts after hours, Key Bonding wouldn't have agreed to pay Padgett's bond in the first place.

When Padgett cut off his ankle bracelet in the middle of the night an employee wiith the correction's department didn't see the notification until the next morning.

"I think it took 10 minutes for agents for Key Bonding to respond when they were informed," Speek said, "But that was 7 hours after it happened."

Key Bonding is one of the four companies that agreed to pay for Padgett's $350,000 bond. Speek said bonding agents had no idea there are gaps in the county's monitoring.

Only after Padgett escaped did they learn no one is in the office to respond to tracking alerts after 6 p.m. on weekdays and on weekends.

In this case, it gave Padgett a seven-hour head start. 

"Had they been informed immediately upon the cutting of the ankle bracelet, they would have been there within minutes, probably would have apprehended him," Speek said.

The private company that does the montoring sends alerts 24-7 if there's an issue but someone at the county has to be on watch to get that alert.  
    
The Hamilton County Correction's Department refused to answer Channel 3's questions about night and weekend staffing but sent us this statement that reads,

"We consider our community corrections pre-trial monitoring programs to be effective. We think our local judges do an outstanding job with determining who goes into the program. We will continue to review the pre-trial monitoring programs to see if there are ways to improve them."

After Padgett's escape the TBI put him on the Top 10 most wanted list and there's currently a $1,000 reward for information leading to his capture.
             
His escape also exposed a flaw in the system, that officials had no choice but to acknowledge publicly.

Stay with WRCBtv.com for updates to this story.


CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) - The Hamilton County Corrections Department does not have any employees tracking ankle monitors after regular business hours - a fact that at least one criminal has used to his advantage to get a head start on fleeing.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press (http://bit.ly/2e0Fala ) reports that ever since budget cuts were made in 2011, there have been no county corrections officials monitoring the GPS monitors from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. on weekdays, or during weekends or holidays.

Earlier this month, Christopher Padgett, a man on trial for first-degree murder, cut off his monitor and escaped around 1:40 a.m. He had a head start on police because no county employee knew he was missing until 6 a.m.

Padgett has since been convicted, but he remains at large.

Information from: Chattanooga Times Free Press, http://www.timesfreepress.com

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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