In a letter to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan on Wednesday, Abbott warned that legislative action is needed.
“Currently, there are no criminal consequences for a parolee cutting off an ankle monitor,” wrote Abbott. “Texas cannot allow violent criminals who jeopardize public safety back into our communities. I look forward to working with you to accomplish these changes and other legislative initiatives that will keep our fellow citizens safe.”
When 30-year-old Nestor Hernandez allegedly shot and killed two employees at a Dallas-area hospital last October, he had already been twice arrested since his release on parole from the state correctional system, including once for removing his ankle monitor.
Under current law, removal or tampering with an ankle monitor is an administrative offense and may result in short-term incarceration in an Intermediate Sanction Facility (ISF) or even revocation of parole, but no new criminal charges.
In December, Abbott ordered the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles (BPP) and Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) to investigate possible lapses in the release and parole supervision of Hernandez as well as parolee Zeric Jackson, who had also been wearing an ankle monitor when he allegedly murdered a Highland Park man in November 2022.
The two agencies delivered the results of the investigation to the governor’s office last week, noting that Hernandez had violated his curfew six times and had been ordered to serve 100 days in an ISF in June 2022.
Investigators also reported that after serving 95 percent of a sentence for aggravated robbery, Jackson was released on parole in May 2022, also with a monitor. On two occasions, a parole officer determined that Jackson’s monitor had malfunctioned, but failed to check GPS data that showed Jackson had not followed his prescribed schedule. The report states that said parole officer has now been recommended for dismissal.
During the 2019 legislative session, Rep. Jessica Farrar (D-Houston) and Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) introduced legislation that would have made tampering with an electronic monitoring device a Class A or Class B misdemeanor. Farrar’s bill passed the House with broad bipartisan support, but was not given a hearing in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.
Crime Stoppers of Houston’s Andy Kahan, who testified in support of the 2019 bill, told The Texan he “wholeheartedly supports” the governor’s proposal.
“If I went into a legislator’s office and destroyed a chair, I would face criminal charges,” said Kahan. “But if I were on parole and destroyed my monitor? Nothing.”
Although not considered in the BPP and TDCJ investigation, in another incident in Harris County last month, parolee Anthony J. Garcia allegedly shot at Houston police officers after leading them in a vehicular pursuit. Sentenced to five years in 2021, Garcia had three prior felony convictions, but was released on parole in 2022 and was also wearing an ankle monitor at the time. He has been charged with two counts of attempted capital murder, felony evading arrest, and felon in possession of a weapon.
The BPP and TDCJ investigative report recommends creating a criminal offense for tampering: “Enhancing the penalties may act as a deterrent and dissuade those already on heightened supervision from attempting to evade supervision.”
“A new law violation is weighed heavily by the BPP when making decisions on returning individuals to prison. Approximately 75 percent of parole revocations are for law violations.”
The legislative session is slated to begin January 10, 2023.
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Holly Hansen is a reporter for The Texan living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.