Budget problems force agency to ask court to remove defendants from GPS monitors

The federal Pretrial Services Agency or PSA, which monitors defendants accused of crimes in D.C., has asked judges to take dozens of defendants off GPS monitoring devices, citing pandemic-related budget problems.

FOX 5 discovered the request from PSA to remove 132 of 484 defendants on GPS devices in a court filing in an ongoing murder case from 2018.

MORE FROM FOX 5: Suspected gunman in death of Naval Academy mom charged with murder, police say

Lawyers for defendant Daquan Gray asked a judge in March to release him from GPS monitoring while he awaits trial for allegedly shooting and killing his 15-year-old Ballou High School classmate Jaylyn Wheeler in 2018.

In the motion, Gray's lawyers cited a recommendation from PSA and attached a March email to court administrators and prosecutors in which PSA says a pandemic-related increase in defendants on GPS monitoring has "reached a level that is unsustainable under PSA's appropriated funding." The email continues, "...we must decrease the number of defendants on GPS monitoring in order to sustain the program."

A list of defendants PSA asked to remove from electronic monitoring includes people accused of crimes from felony murder to felony cruelty to children.

Download the FOX 5 DC News App for Local Breaking News and Weather

In many cases, prosecutors with the United States Attorney's Office for D.C. have opposed the modification of the defendants' release conditions, citing public safety.

In denying Gray's motion, a judge took a shot at PSA saying, "...as for the recommendation of the Pretrial Services Agency...the recommendation is based more on budgetary concerns than on any determination that GPS monitoring in no longer necessary to the community's protection."

In a statement to FOX 5 Wednesday, PSA said it is currently using GPS to monitor 400 defendants, down significantly from 484 in March. It's not clear how many defendants were removed at the recommendation of PSA.

MORE FROM FOX 5: Fairfax County law enforcement continues search for most wanted killers

The statement continued:

"The cost of electronic monitoring for an individual defendant varies depending on the number of days a defendant is on electronic monitoring. The COVID-19 Pandemic has resulted in a greater number of defendants remaining on pretrial supervision for extended periods, placing an additional financial burden on PSA. As a federal agency, PSA is subject to the Antideficiency Act and can not make or authorize expenditure for funds above the amount available in the fiscal year's appropriation. PSA has not received any additional appropriation as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Given the attending financial conditions, PSA diligently worked with the courts, USAO, and the defense bar to maximize the use of the limited resources available to the agency to carry out the mandated mission of promoting pretrial justice and enhancing community safety.

To be clear, while fiscal concerns may have been a factor in prompting PSA's recent review of cases with defendants on electronic monitoring, budget was not the sole consideration driving PSA’s recommendation.  Public safety is the agency’s priority and budgetary constraints do not override our responsibility for public safety.  Any PSA recommendation to the court is guided by a robust, systematic assessment of a defendant's risk and a review of his/her supervision compliance history."