By Justin Fenton, The Baltimore Sun
7:05 PM EDT, June 13, 2012
The mother of a young girl hit with a stray bullet fired by a juvenile offender who was under GPS tracking is seeking millions of dollars from the state vendor that provides the monitoring, claiming in a lawsuit that the company knew its product was flawed.
The suit was filed in U.S. District Court this week by Danielle Brooks, whose daughter, Raven Wyatt, was 5 years old when she was struck by a bullet and suffered catastrophic injuries. The girl is now 8, and the family's attorney estimates her care could cost more than $7 million over her lifetime.
The shooter, Lamont Davis, was a repeat offender who had left his home, where he was supposed to be tracked by an ankle monitoring device provided by Nebraska-based iSECUREtrac Inc. His trial exposed flaws in the technology and raised questions about the reliability of the tracking information.
"Lamont Davis figured out how to fool the system, and he is not unique given our understanding," said W. Charles Bailey Jr., an attorney representing the family. "iSECUREtrac was in a position to know about that and at a minimum had a duty to warn the state and solve the problems within their system."
Company officials had not been served with the lawsuit Wednesday, according to Bailey, and did not respond to a request for comment. The family is seeking $10 million for each of seven claims.
After the 2009 shooting, the state's then-secretary of juvenile services said he had "concerns" about the technology and the vendor, but months later the state extended its contract with the company for three years and $2.7 million. That was an increase from the state's initial $1 million commitment.
After Davis' trial, both the Department of Juvenile Services and the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention said they were confident that the records showing Davis was home at the time of the shooting were accurate, though they were unwilling to say that he was innocent.
Jay Cleary, a spokesman with the Department of Juvenile Services, said officials reviewed the technology and were satisfied.
"We found that the system was reliable and worked and functioned as it should have that day," he said Wednesday. He added that GPS monitoring is just a part of supervision of youth offenders. "It doesn't replace any supervision on our part."
The state is not named as a defendant in the suit.
Davis was convicted and sentenced to life plus 30 years in prison. He has an appeal pending before the Court of Special Appeals, court records show.
The reliability of the GPS records was a flash point at trial and caused confusion among prosecutors and defense attorneys. Davis' attorneys maintained the data was accurate and Davis could not have been the shooter.
Testimony at Davis' trial showed that a state-sanctioned monitoring system, once used to track him, is not always reliable. It can provide false data about location, does not work in certain "dead zones," and cannot tell where an offender is unless the juvenile carries a cell phone-size tracker to communicate with an ankle bracelet.
However, state officials have noted, the program still indicates when the person is out of bounds and logs the incident as a violation.
Davis had violated the conditions about eight times, according to a Baltimore Sun analysis of the evidence, and each instance was recorded by the GPS system.
On July 2, 2009, Davis got into a fistfight in South Baltimore with a teen who spat on a girl. Davis left and returned with a gun, firing into the crowded intersection at South Pulaski and Wilhelm streets, a scene captured by a police surveillance camera.
The teen was the target and was wounded in the arm. Raven was an unintended victim, hit in the head while on her way home from the store, carrying a new set of hair beads bought by a relative.
Raven now suffers from uncontrollable movements of her limbs and speech difficulties, and can't walk or play with friends, the lawsuit says. Bailey, the family attorney, said Raven's medical expenses are largely covered through Medicaid, but the family, which struggles to make ends meet, needs help paying other costs.
"She has problems with her hand, and one of the things that helps is combing a doll. Medicaid isn't going to pay for that," Bailey said, also citing eventual psychiatric counseling and handicap accessible alterations to the family's residence.
In the lawsuit, Bailey said that Davis' GPS system functioned erratically and inconsistently.
"Defendant knew, or reasonably could have been expected to know, that if these juveniles were not under home detention and using their product, then such juveniles would be incarcerated or otherwise locked up in jails," the lawsuit contends. "Given this fact, defendant had a duty to provide reasonable assurances regarding safety and effectiveness of its home monitoring system given the dangers posed by the individuals being monitored."
The lawsuit further claims the home monitoring system was "defective, unmerchantable, and unfit for its ordinary use."
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