Update: Last week, we told you about the sweeping search for Matthew Caulk, a sex offender who'd previously been the subject of a nationwide manhunt; see our previous coverage below. Yesterday, he was recaptured in Aurora. But the way he was being monitored when he walked away from a halfway house raises questions about the capacity of the GPS unit that had been strapped to his ankle.
As we reported, Caulk made national headlines in 2007, when he vanished with a sixteen-year-old Lakewood girl with whom he was said to be having a "consensual" relationship -- although it's not clear how consensual it would have been had she known he was the target of two active warrants owing to a 2002 conviction in Washington state for sexual misconduct with a child. The story was featured on America's Most Wanted, CNN, ABC and plenty of other national outlets prior to the discovery of him and the girl in Morrison; she was unharmed.
In 2010, Caulk was sentenced to 45 months of federal prison for failing to register as a sex offender, to be followed by an extra eight years on supervised release. However, his punishment is guaranteed to change after he skated from the halfway house, prompting a U.S. Marshals Service alert complete with a slew of photos seen on page three of this post.
Once again, though, he didn't go far. He was located at a house on the 3800 block of South Ventura Street in Aurora at about 2 p.m. yesterday afternoon, during the teeth of a snowstorm. Not that a few flakes deterred the cops. In a statement, chief deputy Kenneth Deal said, "Despite the weather conditions here in Colorado we continued to pursue Caulk night and day. When a dangerous predator is on the loose we don't stop. A CrimeStoppers tip and a lot of old fashioned detective work led us to Caulk."
That's tough talk -- but the ease of his getaway has focused attention on his GPS device. As 7News reports, Caulk was wearing a "passive" ankle monitor that only sends data when it's docked in a GPS unit, as opposed to real-time locating. In contrast, Denver uses the latter type of GPS monitoring for most clients considered high risk, including sex offenders.
Why wasn't Caulk, a demonstrated flight threat with a dangerous history, fitted with a similar device? Here's a statement provided to 7News by Joe Starman, director of the halfway house to which Caulk had been assigned:
Independence House operates a GPS tracking system on sex offender residents that are judicially placed in our program. We currently have a GPS tracking system that enables us to passively monitor client movement and gives us active alerts should a client tamper or cut off the unit. This provides us an additional level of accountability on the resident. In addition, we actively monitor client accountability via client sign-in/sign out logs, telephone check-in calls, telephonic verifications, on-sites and facility house-counts.
Clients who fall under this classification are mandated to register with the Denver Police Department within 5 days of arriving to the program. Clients are also required to re-register annually on their birth date, every 90 days if convicted of an offense that requires this or has a change of address. Clients are authorized to sign-out of the facility if approved for a specific activity (ie...work, treatment, legal, medical etc.) with pre-authorized travel-time allotted and given a stipulated time to return to the program.
Should a client fail to return to the program at the mandated time, the program will contact the jurisdiction having authority over the offender. Clients are placed on safety plans and must have approval from the supervising officer and the treatment provider to attend specific locations or employment while in the program.
Expect debate about whether this system is strict enough, especially in light of Caulk's several-day joy trip away from state supervision.
Continue for our previous coverage of the search for Matthew Caulk. Original post, 6:59 a.m. February 22: When a sex offender walks away from a halfway house, authorities are concerned, sure -- but they don't usually make the sort of full-bore public push for his recapture that the U.S. Marshals Service has launched in the search for Matthew Caulk, 46. Then again, Caulk isn't just any sex offender. He was at the center of a nationwide manhunt back in 2007, when he was involved in a "consensual" relationship with a sixteen-year-old Lakewood girl.
The name of the young woman in question -- Amber Westbrook -- earned lots of publicity at the time because she was considered a runaway rather than a victim of a crime. Indeed, Lakewood Police spokesman Steve Davis told ABC News during a period when Caulk was the focus of reports on numerous national news outlets, not to mention America's Most Wanted, that law enforcers had "absolutely no indication of any criminal behavior.... We don't have a crime here."
So why was so much energy expended to find Caulk both here and across the country? As 7News reported at the time, Caulk had been convicted of sexual misconduct with a child in Pierce County, Washington, back in 2002. That bust required him to register as a sex offender, but doing so apparently slipped his mind. Five years later, two warrants for failing to register were active in his name -- one in Yellowstone County, Montana, and the other in Lakewood, where, according to the AMW website, Caulk and Westbrook met at a community pool. Shortly thereafter, the site goes on, "they started a relationship."
And then they vanished. Amber's stepmother dropped her off at CEC Middle College of Denver on September 25, 2007, but she didn't return home. She and Caulk were spotted in Morrison the next day, but then, they were gone.
Fortunately, they didn't go far. During the first week of October, they were found at a home in Morrison, at City View and Turkey Creek Road. Amber was reunited with her family, and Caulk was taken into custody, to begin his latest trek through the criminal justice system. The Marshals Service says he was sentenced in May 2010 to 45 months of federal prison for failing to register as a sex offender. After being freed, he was ordered by a U.S. District judge to serve an additional eight years on supervised release, with his first assignment being a Denver halfway house.
Instead, Caulk split, and he's currently at large -- but not invisible. The Marshals have issued pics aplenty of Caulk, including shots of tattoos on his chest, stomach and limbs.
If you have any information about Caulk's whereabouts, you're encouraged to contact the U.S. Marshals Service at 1-877-WANTED2 (1-877-926-8332) or Metro Denver Crime Stoppers at 720-913-STOP (7867), which is offering a reward of up to $2,500 if a tip leads to his arrest and conviction. Here's a 7News report:
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More from our Colorado Crimes archive: "Photos: Twenty creepiest mug shots of sex offenders at large in Colorado."