Courtroom audio: Judge, prosecutor frustrated with 'subpar' monitoring
A Palmer Judge and Assistant District Attorney shared harsh words in an open court hearing this month, expressing frustration with the Department of Correction's supervision of a defendant in violation of his conditions of release.
Darron Sanders failed to pass a urine analysis test but didn't face any immediate consequences.
The courtroom comments centered around the new Pretrial Enforcement Division (PED).
"What does that tell you about PED's drug monitoring?" Palmer District Court Judge William Estelle can be heard asking in an audio recording of a bail hearing for Sanders.
"I would say that it's subpar," ADA Krista Anderson responds, "PED's not doing its job."
A defense attorney would later jump in, "I know PED doesn't have an issue monitoring for illicit substances if they're requested," before he's cut off by the judge.
"They weren't requested-- they were ordered to do it," said Estelle.
Anderson adds, "I would say that PED monitors their budget closer than they monitor defendants."
Sanders was ordered to dual supervision-- he's on monitoring with probation for a 2010 drug case, and he’s assigned to PED supervision for a recent 2018 case involving charges of reckless driving and failing to stop at the direction of an officer.
In response to questions about the courtroom audio, Palmer ADA Brittany Dunlop wrote in an email:
"On May 15, our office received information that the offender reported for a UA to the probation office on 5/8/18 and tested positive for opiates.
"While waiting for a PO to report to the UA room, the offender fled the probation office. He has a prior history of absconding from probation. Nobody at probation filed a violation, but the offender began reporting again several days later. The assigned probation officer told our office that "because he has been reporting, I am being told I cannot arrest him." I am not sure who gave this direction to the probation officer.
"The defendant was also being monitored by PED-- in addition to probation-- when he tested positive for opiates. Our office has not received any report of violations from PED for this offender."
In an on-camera interview, Sanders said he was willing to speak about his cases and experience with the state's supervision because he feels "that it should be addressed".
Sanders said in three weeks of being out of custody and assigned to PED supervision, no one from PED visited his home to check that he was following his conditions of release—and, he says he was never drug tested. His contact with PED was through an office visit and regular phone calls.
His electronic monitoring through PED involved a handheld breathalyzer device he is required to breathe into every four hours. The device reports his location and sends a photo to PED while screening him for alcohol-- but that's not his problem, Sanders said.
DOC spokesperson Megan Edge wrote in an email Wednesday:
"When a defendant is ordered to be supervised by multiple entities (in this case - probation and pretrial), probation would take the lead – as the judge can order more restrictive conditions. The temporary order for Pretrial release specified that Mr. Sanders should submit to drug and alcohol testing – which he has done several times. According to the pretrial bail order, the box that was not checked by the judge on the order that would require the defendant to abstain from drugs and alcohol, which makes it a condition of release – which means our pretrial officers, did not, at that time, have the authority to arrest him for violating a condition of release for using illegal substances. Those conditions have since been modified."
As for the Probation Office's role, Edge acknowledges a mistake was made.
"On May 9, Mr. Sanders did fail a drug test and left the probation office. He contacted the office after he left and said he’d return to the office. Unfortunately, we did have a miscommunication at this point. Our probation office thought he had returned to the office the same day, but according to our records he did not.
“We’d like to never [make] mistakes, but occasionally we do. When issues surface we work diligently to solve the problem, to prevent them from occurring again, and because it’s in the best interest of public safety. Our processes are not always perfect, but that is why we’re constantly reevaluating them.
“Mr. Sanders returned to the probation office again on May 11, 14 and 15 for drug testing and tested negative on all three tests. On his visit on May 15, a probation officer discovered that the May 9 incident at the probation office had not been addressed. At that point, a summons was filed with the court. The defendant was reporting to pretrial and in compliance during this time."
Sanders is now being monitored by a third entity, Alaska Pretrial Services, a private monitoring company serving as his third party in the 2010 case. He's willing to pay for the private service, he says, for more structured supervision, in the hopes that he can finally put his addiction and criminal past behind him.
"I'm gonna do good here, and I can make it with their help," said Sanders.
Questions or comments about this story? Email reporter Daniella Rivera.
Copyright 2018 KTVA. All rights reserved.