Sixty-one-year-old Marvin Brown has had three mini-strokes in the last two months. He has diabetes, stage-four renal disease and congestive heart failure. On good days, he walks with a cane. Other times, he gets around with a walker or an electric wheelchair.
But according to Gov. Rick Perry, Brown is among the most dangerous sex offenders in Texas. Perry has ordered that Brown and other registered sex offenders who were previously released from continuous monitoring must now be monitored again with ankle bracelets. Brown, who was convicted in 1985 of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy and of indecency with a 16-year-old boy, says forcing him to wear the ankle monitor not only puts his fragile health at risk — it's also a violation of his civil rights. On Tuesday, he filed a lawsuit asking the federal courts to keep the state from putting him back on the monitor. “They can’t give you freedom and then take it away,” Brown says.
Last month, Perry announced a raft of new measures to crack down on what he called “the most dangerous sex offenders.” Among other things, Perry said he would designate $1.7 million in federal grant money to help the Texas Department of Criminal Justice use technology to monitor high-risk sex offenders on parole. “These initiatives will provide greater protections to our citizens by taking our efforts in dealing with sex offenders up yet another notch,” Perry said in a press release.
Since that announcement, 153 parolees have been returned to active electronic monitoring, says Michelle Lyons, a criminal justice department spokeswoman. All the parolees who have received ankle bracelets, she says, were previously on a passive monitoring system that logged their daily whereabouts and created a report for parole officers. Ankle bracelets, she says, allow for real-time monitoring to ensure sex offenders aren’t going near playgrounds or other areas where children congregate. With the grant money, the department could put ankle bracelets on as many as 600 high-risk sex offenders.
Brown found out about Perry’s new crackdown efforts a couple of weeks ago, when his parole officer told him he was on the list of sex offenders to be put back on active monitoring. Brown served 14 years of his 40-year sentence in the criminal justice department before he was paroled in 1999 and placed on intensive supervision, which required him to wear an ankle bracelet with a GPS monitor. In 2007, the Board of Pardons and Paroles took Brown off intensive supervision and removed the monitor. With the monitor off, Brown says, he could lead a somewhat normal life — shopping, making friends, eating out with family and attending church without an ominous-looking briefcase that carried a beeping device.
He could also deal more easily with his health problems, going to the doctor’s office and taking emergency trips to the hospital when necessary. Brown, who lives alone, had a system installed at his house so that he could use the telephone to update nurses at the hospital with his vital statistics and so that he could get quick help in case he had another stroke or heart attack and couldn’t reach the phone. The ankle bracelet, he says, will interfere with the system, and he worries that without it he could die. “If you have a stroke or a heart attack and nobody finds you until the next day, it’s too late,” he says.
What’s more, Brown says, he didn’t commit any offense or break any of the rules during the time he was on parole. In January, the state reduced his parole stipulations. In February, a therapist evaluated him, using the state’s standards, and determined he had a low risk of re-offending. He doesn’t understand how the state can revoke his freedoms when he was following their orders and seemed to be performing well. In the lawsuit, he alleges that the state is violating his constitutional right to due process by forcing him back on the ankle monitor without justification or a legal hearing on the matter. “It’s a public embarrassment,” Brown says. “I don’t know how I’d be able to attend church.”
Mary Sue Molnar, founder of Texas Voices, an organization that promotes sex offender law reform, says she has gotten several calls from paroled sex offenders like Brown who don’t understand why they are being forced onto stricter monitoring. Most, she says, are worried they will lose their jobs if they must wear the ankle bracelet. “I don’t know if this is a political thing or what it is, but it’s just crazy,” she says. “These are people who have been doing everything they’ve been asked to do. They’ve been following the rules.”
Attorney Bill Habern has defended parolees and sex offenders like Brown for decades. He says he sympathizes with Brown but believes his lawsuit is probably doomed. The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals — in a case Habern defended and is appealing — ruled that once a person is a convicted sex offender, the state can impose conditions it sees fit to protect the public. “While I would wish him the best, I believe he’s got roadblocks in front of him that are going to be difficult to overcome,” Habern says. Still, Habern agrees with Brown that it’s unfair to put sex offenders back on ankle monitors after a previous decision that the person wasn’t dangerous enough to warrant that restriction. “It’s strictly for political purposes, and it doesn’t protect the public at all,” Habern said.
Katherine Cesinger, a spokeswoman for the governor, says the move to increase sex offender monitoring was not politically motivated but was intended to provide greater public protection from sexual predators. Lyons, the criminal justice department spokeswoman, says she can't comment on pending litigation but maintains that the ankle monitors are designed for those who are considered at high risk for reoffending. “I can't see how having more supervision wouldn’t add to public safety,” she says.