When a St. Francisville man wearing an ankle monitor stalked his ex-wife for weeks before shooting her and turning the gun on himself, the ankle monitoring company tasked with monitoring him n ever alerted authorities – revealing cracks in Louisiana’s patchwork system for tracking people who are released from prison pending trial.
Now, in what officials say is a one-of-a-kind case, employees of that company have been criminally charged for their role in the incident.
A grand jury indicted American Electronic Monitoring owner Van Hopkins on Thursday with negligent homicide, West Feliciana Parish District Attorney Sam D’Aquilla said. He also charged a company employee, Deborah Shirley; D’Aquilla said it was his job to track Marshall Rayburn’s daily movements after he was released on $100,000 bail last fall for raping his estranged wife, Peggy Rayburn.
For several weeks after bonding, Marshall Rayburn violated the conditions of his release with trips to Chick-Fil-A, Walmart, a sex shop and his wife’s neighborhood – which his ankle monitor recorded minute by minute, company records show. One night in late September, he parked near Peggy Rayburn’s house, wrapped his ankle monitor in duct tape to cut off the signal, and made his final move.
It wasn’t until their bodies were found that authorities pieced together what had happened. Furious, D’Aquilla decided to file a lawsuit against the company which had known all along where Marshall Rayburn was.
“We wanted justice for Peggy and her family,” D’Aquilla said Thursday, after the grand jury’s decision. “But we also want to shine a light on the ankle monitoring system.”
The case illustrates a “total failure of the system”, he said.
Calls to phone numbers belonging to Hopkins and Shirley on Thursday were not returned.
It’s not just the rural parish of West Feliciana that has had issues with ineffective GPS ankle monitoring. The Rayburn murder-suicide has renewed scrutiny of a wider patchwork system of private operators across Louisiana who work with bail agencies and judges to provide surveillance for GPS ankle monitors.
The setup typically relies on defendants paying the companies directly for the service. Over the years it has occasionally given rise to allegations of insider trading and non-existent oversight – such as in a case months before the murder, when a man out on bail with an ankle monitor allegedly stabbed Portia Pollock, 60, to death in New Orleans.
Hundreds of pages of AEM records show the company gained minute-to-minute access to Marshall Rayburn’s location last fall, but Shirley still hasn’t alerted a sheriff or local police, D’Aquilla said. .
Louisiana’s negligent homicide law carries a penalty of up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
D’Aquilla said Van Hopkins and Deborah Shirley are expected to surrender to local law enforcement in the coming days. The grand jury also returned one count of negligent homicide against the company itself, which according to business records has offices in Mississippi and Louisiana, D’Aquilla said.
The charges likely mark the first case in Louisiana where an electronic surveillance company has faced criminal penalties for a surveillance failure. Prosecutors statewide told The Advocate in March they were not aware of any previous cases in which such charges had been brought.
But the industry is so loosely regulated, in Louisiana and nationally, that it’s hard to say for sure what sorts of penalties have been imposed on rogue operators, experts, prosecutors and law enforcement officials say. law enforcement.
Dozens of applications for recordings filed by The Times-Picayune | The attorney since the September murder-suicide has shown that few courts in the Baton Rouge area maintain contracts or have standards for companies that provide ankle monitoring services. Clerks in some parishes insist they have no way of tracking the number of people released on ankle monitors.
The system in the city parish of East Baton Rouge is run “entirely by the courts,” District Attorney Hillar Moore III said.
“We only know what we know,” Moore said in March. “It’s entirely up to the company monitoring the defendant to report battery failure (and) violations.”
Following the St. Francisville murder-suicide, at the request of West Feliciana Parish Sheriff Brian Spillman, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry issued an advisory that law enforcement n have no obligation to run monitoring programs themselves. Whether these systems should rely on law enforcement or private companies has sparked debate in cities like New Orleans.
American Electronic Monitoring, Hopkins and Shirley are also facing a civil lawsuit from Peggy Rayburn’s family seeking damages for her death.
D’Aquilla said he hopes the Rayburn case eventually leads to state-level rules on how ankle monitoring businesses can operate.