Correspondent: MARIANA VAN ZELLER
Produced by: ALISSA FIGUEROA
AP: CRISTINA COSTANTINI
There are an estimated 200,000 people across the country wearing ankle monitors. They’re people out on bail, probation, on house arrest and parole. Even celebrities like Lindsay Lohan and Martha Stewart have sported them.
But it’s not just low-level criminals who are placed in these programs. Convicted felons with violent histories are sometimes also given ankle monitors. And the systems aren’t as foolproof as you may think.
Bessman Okafor — a convicted felon with 15 prior arrests — was put on an ankle monitor after breaking into the house of Alex Zaldivar, 19 and his friend Brienna Campos, age 21, in Orlando, Fl in 2012. He was charged with home invasion with a firearm, robbery and larceny, and faced a life sentence.
Despite his criminal history, Okafor was let out on bail just a few weeks after his arrest and put on home confinement with an ankle bracelet. The night before his trial, however, authorities say that Okafor broke into the same home and shot Alex and Brienna point blank in the head, presumably to ensure there were no witnesses to testify in the original home invasion trial.
Brienna survived. But Alex did not. That night was not the first time Okafor violated the terms of his home confinement.
Fusion’s investigative team obtained an internal investigation of the Orange County Florida County Corrections Department, which was supposed to be monitoring Okafor. The documents revealed Okafor had violated the terms of his confinement 109 times before killing Alex. None of these violations were reported to a judge.
Watch part two of our story here:
“They didn't want to report it because they wanted to keep the numbers up,” said Alex’s father, Raphael Zaldivar, in reference to how the department measured its effectiveness of monitoring those on house arrest. “So as long as they kept the number up … it was okay.”
But Okafor is hardly the only one to violate his home confinement with impunity. Our reporting has found that all over the country programs are understaffed and officers can’t handle all the alerts coming in. A quick search on YouTube shows you just how easy it is to cut off or remove a bracelet.
So someone who cuts off their ankle monitor, or goes outside of their confinement zone, can sometimes go unreported for days, weeks, or as in Bessman Okafor’s case — months.
Alex’s father Raphael says he’s on a “crusade” against broken home confinement programs. He’s determined to ensure nobody else loses the way his son did.
“Alex lost his life,” he said. “He lost his life, and he could have been saved.”