OKEECHOBEE — Charles Richard White was the first person locally to be fitted with an ankle monitor instead of sitting in the Okeechobee County Jail.
The 86-year-old man was also the first person to remove the GPS unit from his ankle.
White was arrested in Okeechobee on July 14 and charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, a felony. So, instead of keeping White in the county jail he was fitted with the ankle monitor.
But on Oct. 6 White, who suffers from dementia and now lives with his son in West Palm Beach, removed his ankle monitor.
According to Ivelisse Chico-Randazzo, the program manager with the St. Lucie County Pre-Trial Program, White did not remove the monitor so he could escape. Okeechobee County contracts with the St. Lucie program to oversee the local monitoring program.
Ms. Chico-Randazzo explained the elderly man apparently had hooked the monitor up to its charger. But when he couldn’t remember how to unhook the charger, he simply cut the monitor’s band.
“I have showed him how to put it on and take it off. Sometimes it’s hard for me, but I can do it,” she said.
As of Tuesday, said Ms. Chico-Randazzo, nine Okeechobee people are wearing ankle monitors. In St. Lucie County, she said it’s around 75.
“The numbers change every day. They are constantly fluctuating,” she said in a telephone interview.
Normally, she continued, White’s son or his grandchildren help him remove the charging unit. The monitors are normally charged for an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening. One charge is usually good for about 12 hours. If the battery goes dead, the St. Lucie office is immediately notified.
Basically, there are two prongs on the bottom of the charging unit that snap into the GPS ankle unit. There are two handles on each side of the charger and when those handles are depressed then the charger can be removed.
In White’s case, he has a brand new unit that’s “right out of the box” and it can be more difficult to remove.
“The more you use it, the easier it comes off. It would be a little harder for him to take off because he’s a little bit frail,” explained Ms. Chico-Randazzo.
“If he doesn’t have the strength in his finger to lift it off, then it’s going to be a little difficult.”
If the unit is removed, she said her office is notified immediately. Either she or someone else in the office will first call to make sure the person wearing the ankle unit is all right.
“In this case, we called the son who said he would go home to see what was going on,” she said.
As noted prior, White was not trying to escape.
“He doesn’t drive. He doesn’t have a vehicle and he doesn’t go anywhere,” offered Ms. Chico-Randazzo.
If she, or someone else in her office, can’t contact the wearer then law enforcement is called and they will then do a welfare check.
While there are cases where a person will remove the monitor, Ms. Chico-Randazzo indicated it doesn’t happen often.
“Most people are appreciative because they know the alternative,” she said.
When asked, she also said it’s not unusual for someone charged with a felony to be in the program and fitted with a monitor. For White, wearing an ankle monitor is the best thing for him.
“Because he’s elderly with dementia, he needs care the jail wouldn’t be able to provide which is why the court released him,” Ms. Chico-Randazzo explained. “Other than this one incident that happened last week, he hasn’t been a problem.”
According to Okeechobee County administrator Robbie Chartier the county entered into a pact with the St. Lucie program in July. The county pays approximately $20,000 per quarter for the program to purchase the GPS units, install them and to monitor those wearing them.
St. Lucie County started running the pre-trial program in 2007. Prior to that, it was handled by a private company. Ms. Chico-Randazzo said her office currently is handling about 225 cases. Not all of them are wearing GPS units, she added.
In White’s case, she said a report has been turned over to the court and a judge will decide how to handle the case.
White was arrested at the Lakeside Grill on S. Parrott Avenue when a woman saw the elderly man in the parking lot point a handgun and she “… thought he was going to shoot me,” stated an arrest report.
When officers from the Okeechobee City Police Department arrived they found White had a loaded .38 caliber handgun.
According to OCPD Officer Timothy Keeler’s report: “White was very slow to answer my questions and I repeated the questions many times. White seemed confused and could not clearly explain why he pointed the weapon at (the woman).”
The elderly man was then arrested and booked into the county jail.
Eric Kopp is a staff writer for the Okeechobee News