Running free on house arrest in the Miami Valley

Each day around the Miami Valley, hundreds of people are on house arrest. Many of them are waiting for trials. They’re at home with a GPS monitor strapped to their ankle. News Center 7 has found examples of people slipping out of those ankle bracelets with violent, even deadly consequences.

Like James Banks Senior's 14-year-old son who was on house arrest wearing an ankle bracelet when he was murdered.

“Oh, man — I think me. A part of me,” is what Banks told News Center 7’s John Bedell when he asked what the world lost when his son was killed.

Banks said the pain of losing his son hasn't gotten any easier in the nearly two years it’s been since he was murdered.

James Banks Jr. was on house arrest for a burglary charge waiting for his trial in juvenile court. His dad and stepmom wanted him locked up instead of on house arrest.

“And I’m like, ‘Jimmy be OK, he on house arrest.’ You know what I’m saying,” Banks’ stepmother Angela Wood said. “That’s the same thought I had, that he was OK because he was on house arrest,” Banks Sr.said.

Tragically, the family was wrong. Banks was selling a gun outside his mom’s apartment on Wexford Place in Dayton in March 2017 when the buyer shot him.

The sale turned into a botched robbery. Banks’ killer is now in prison.

“My son literally walked through the neighborhood with his box on him attached to his leg," Banks Senior said. “It’s like I’m on house arrest but you’ll see him five blocks away. That’s not house arrest.”

We asked Montgomery County Prosecuting Attorney Mat Heck about house arrest. “It’s just an absolute fiasco at what’s going on out there,” Heck said. “It’s just an overrated system.”

RELATED: Dayton man charged in woman’s brutal beating had slipped ankle monitor

Heck does not want house arrest to be an option for violent offenders. Defense attorneys like John H. Rion and his son, Jon Paul Rion scoff at that argument.

“ ‘We’re not going to make a consideration of house arrest’ is profoundly unfair,” the elder Rion said.

“For the reason people are presumed innocent regardless of what the charge is itself,” Jon Paul Rion added.

Heck points to violent and deadly examples like death row inmate, Larry Gapen. He slipped his house arrest ankle monitor and murdered three people with an ax in 2000.

And last year, prosecutors say Travion Montgomery cut off his ankle monitor and choked a woman who’s now on life support.

Then, there’s Justin Smith. The former soccer coach from Germantown reportedly sexually abused one of his former players. Right after he testified in his own trial on Halloween, he literally cut and ran. He took off from the courthouse before cutting and ditching his ankle monitor.

He was spotted in Kentucky and Tennessee before he was arrested in Florida. We were there as deputies brought him back to Dayton and walked him to jail. In all, he spent 45 days on the run.

The day News Center 7 checked, 268 people were on house arrest among Butler, Warren, Montgomery, Greene and Clark counties.

In Montgomery County, if a person on house arrest leaves a programmed area, the court gets an alert and GPS pinpoints their location. If court staff can’t find the person, police and the victim are notified and an arrest warrant is issued.

Mary Kay Stirling is the interim deputy court administrator in Montgomery County. She oversees pre-trial services — the department responsible for tracking people on house arrest in the county.

She calls Heck's concerns “valid,” but said, “The few that have been that violent or have violated compared to how many we’ve actually supervised on house arrest is a low number.”

“I do have a lot of confidence in the people who are monitoring (people on house arrest),” Montgomery County Common Pleas Judge Kate Huffman said. “It’s 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

Huffman is on an Ohio bail review task force, which could lead to improvements to house arrest across the state. House arrest is just one facet of bail.

“I am not, in any way, demeaning the horrific things that happened in those three cases,” Huffman said. “But we don’t have a crystal ball and we can’t predict what every person will do.”

Again, Heck points to three deadly examples in Montgomery County since 1999 — including the case of Peter Atakpu.

He was indicted in May 1999 for felonious assault and was placed on house arrest at his sister's home.

In July 1999, he disconnected his monitoring unit and left the house. Eleven days later, he killed one person and shot at four others.

Now, Atakpu is serving a 34 years-to-life prison sentence.

“I understand they say, ‘Well it was only so many out of so many they have on,’” Heck said. “(But) one person who loses their life, who gets severe injuries as a result of a violent offender being out is too many.”

Banks Sr. said he just wants to make sure no other parents experience his pain. “I don’t think it’s ever gonna get any easier,” he said.

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