DALLAS (AP) — Authorities didn’t search for a Texas man who cut off his ankle monitor in violation of parole terms until a week later when he was linked to a violent rampage that included three shooting deaths over four days, according to state and county officials.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice said Jose Gilberto Rodriguez, 46, was among more than 500 parolees with a violent history living in the Houston area and facing an active arrest warrant for violating terms of parole. Rodriguez removed his ankle monitor on July 5, more than a week before authorities believe he fatally shot three Houston-area people.
Department spokesman Jeremy Desel said neither the agency nor parole officers have the authority to arrest someone, so when authorities learned Rodriguez had tampered with his monitor a warrant was issued for other agencies, such as the Harris County sheriff’s office, to arrest him.
But deputies don’t necessarily search for parolees who have violated their terms of release and would only arrest those offenders they come across during the course of a patrol and run a background check, according to Harris County senior deputy Thomas Gilliland.
“He was, quite frankly, just another person who was a parole violator,” Gilliland said of Rodriguez.
There are approximately 84,000 parolees living in Texas and about 18,000 of them live in the greater Houston area, with about 1,200 monitored by GPS or electronic monitoring, according to the criminal justice department.
“These sorts of devices go off all the time,” Desel said. “You can get an alert because the strap is twisted or get alerted because the person is playing soccer or doing some other activity.”
Houston police Chief Art Acevedo expressed frustration at a Tuesday news conference with the low bonds, if any, that were being ordered for violent criminals who violate paroles in the Houston area and across Texas. He promised to create a task force of law enforcement agencies in Harris County to recommend to the Texas Legislature changes to tighten the system. For instance, Acevedo wants police to be authorized to search all parolees they encounter for drugs and weapons.
Acevedo spoke hours after Rodriguez was arrested while driving a car belonging to 57-year-old Edward Magana, an employee of a Houston mattress store who was shot dead Monday. Rodriguez also is accused in the deaths of Pamela Johnson, 62, who was found Friday in her Cypress-area home, and Allie Barrow, 28, found dead Saturday inside another Houston mattress store.
Rodriguez also is a suspect in the robbery, shooting and wounding of a Metro bus driver on Monday and two home invasion robberies, investigators said. It’s believed a handgun found in the car Rodriguez was driving when he was arrested was used in at least two of the killings, Gilliland said Wednesday.
Rodriguez is being held without bond on two counts of capital murder. Online jail records don’t indicate whether he has an attorney to speak on his behalf.
Gilliland declined to speculate on a motive but said the killings appeared to be “crimes of opportunity.” The parolee’s actions were consistent with criminals searching for “soft targets” such as smaller stores with minimal customer traffic and only one or two employees.
Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez earlier referred to Rodriguez as a “suspected serial killer” but Gilliland said at this point in the investigation he’s not a suspect in any other deaths.
Rodriguez’s criminal history dates back to at least 1989 when he was charged with a variety of offenses that include attempted aggravated sexual abuse, burglary and auto theft. He spent decades in state prison and while there was convicted of possession of a deadly weapon. He was released on parole in September after having completed a pre-release sex offender program.
Desel said he had no compliance issues in the months after his release, having registered as a sex offender, submitting to a polygraph examination and reporting to his parole officer as required.
Gilliland said it’s not clear why Rodriguez went on a violent rampage after complying with the terms of his parole for months. But the deputy said Rodriguez’s actions followed a pattern.
“As criminals continue to be more bold and more aggressive, they tend to become more violent,” he said. “That’s when you have someone you really need to find and get them off the streets.”