AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Governor Greg Abbott wants to see reform around ankle monitor violations in the upcoming legislative session, the Republican indicated in a Wednesday letter to leaders of the Texas House and Senate.
In a letter to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Speaker Dade Phelan, the governor said there are currently “no criminal consequences” for parolees who cut off their ankle monitor. He cites previous cases in which parolees wearing ankle monitors still committed crimes, saying the devices “were not effective” in deterring and preventing individuals from committing violent crimes.
One of the fatal incidents Abbott referenced is the October 2022 Dallas hospital shooting that left two employees dead.
The alleged gunman, Nestor Hernandez, was able to visit the hospital for his girlfriend’s delivery of their baby but was already on parole for aggravated robbery and had an “active ankle monitor,” according to the Dallas Police Department. In October, DPD Police Chief Eddie Garcia called the shooting an “abhorrent failure of our criminal justice system.”
Last month, Abbott directed the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles (BPP) and Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) to investigate “any lapses” in the release and supervision of Hernandez, as well as another Zeric Jackson, another parolee who had an ankle monitor and is accused of murdering a man in Dallas.
The report BPP and TDCJ sent to the governor found that Hernandez and Jackson’s parole panel did consistently follow rules and policies for addressing their violations and releasing them. Abbott says because of these findings, there is a clear need for legislative action.
“Currently, there are no criminal consequences for a parolee cutting off an ankle monitor,” Abbott said in his letter to Patrick and Phelan. “Texas cannot allow violent criminals who jeopardize public safety back into our communities.”
In Austin last summer, one of the suspects involved in a string of robberies and a shooting near The Domain shopping center had previously cut off his ankle monitor, according to Austin police.
While Abbott’s letter only specified penalties for parolees who remove their ankle monitors, criminal justice advocates and families of crime victims are hoping potential legislation goes further.
Candice Atwood’s best friend, Catherine Dyer, was murdered in Austin in 2015. Dyer’s then-boyfriend, Kevin Michael Waguespack, was charged with her murder but fled days before his trial was set to start.
Waguespack disappeared while out on bond after a judge granted the removal of his GPS ankle monitor, one of the conditions of his bond.
“It just doesn’t make sense to us. And none of it makes sense to us,” Atwood said. “And then we weren’t notified-Nobody was notified until three days before his trial was to start. Then they’re like, oh, we can’t find him.”
Atwood said the judge’s decision ruined their chances of getting justice for Dyer. More than five years later, Waguespack is still a missing fugitive.
“We would have had our closure by now. He would have been sentenced he would be sitting in prison,” she said, “but we don’t get that because that Judge chose to let him off his monitor.”
Jennifer Toon is a criminal justice advocate and project director of Lioness Justice Impacted Women’s Alliance. Formerly incarcerated herself, Toon said there is a host of problems with the ankle monitor system as is.
“Quite frankly, they just don’t work the way the public envisions,” she said. “There’s a complete breakdown in the process of how an officer or the police are notified when there’s a problem. Oftentimes, there are mechanical glitches — my monitor had to get it replaced three times.”
She hopes that any legislation that addresses ankle monitors will be more robust, rather than just adding criminal penalties for those who break them.
“It is another type of incarceration that is just not effective,” Toon said. “It creates barriers for people who want to be successful. And it’s not a deterrent for folks that are not ready to follow the conditions of their supervision.”
One issue Atwood would like to see the address is making sure law enforcement, attorneys, and other involved parties will get notified if a suspect on bond removes or is granted the removal of their ankle monitor.
“It just doesn’t make sense to us. And none of it makes sense to us,” she said. “We’re being really too lenient on the ones that actually need to be in prison or jail and monitored.”
Whether or not this will be part of Abbott’s emergency items for the 88th Legislative Session is not clear. When state lawmakers return to the Capitol on Tuesday, they cannot move any legislation, except for the governor’s emergency items, until early March.