DENVER (CBS4) - Despite vehement denials by the Colorado Department of Parole, a CBS4 investigation has turned up numerous state records that show dangerous parolees were either removed from intensive supervised parole in the last five years or never placed on it in the first place due to budget squeezes in the parole division.
"I think you've uncovered something significant', said Rep. Mark Waller, Colorado House Minority leader, who reviewed the documents CBS4 uncovered. "Absolutely the Governor's office should be looking at this."
"It's inexcusable," said Rep. Frank McNulty. "There is no reason we should use budget cuts to put safety at risk," McNulty said after reviewing the CBS4 records.
In April a CBS4 investigation interviewed four current parole employees and one former parole worker who all said their department routinely removed high-profile and dangerous offenders from intensive supervised parole when their department budget was tight.
"For as long as I can remember," recounted a former parole officer, "we were always told, 'We're out of money and we need to take offenders off ISP,' And it had to be done immediately."
ISP refers to Intensive Supervised Parole, the most restrictive and most costly type of parole the state has. It requires high-risk and dangerous parolees to make daily phones calls to parole officers, have electronic monitoring to track their whereabouts, and have frequent face-to-face meetings with parole workers.
But Alison Morgan, a spokesperson for the parole department, vehemently disputed the April CBS4 report and the account of parole employees.
"It's not accurate," said Morgan. "It's just not there, that's why it was important to come and say on the record it's not our policy, it's not our practice, and its' not what we're doing. Public safety isn't about dollars."
Following the CBS4 investigation, Roger Werholtz, the Interim Executive Director of the Department of Corrections, buttressed Morgan's statements. In an email to DOC employees sent May 3, a week after the CBS4 report aired, Werholtz wrote, "It has recently been reported that employees were ordered to take actions they felt compromised public safety, and were told it was to save money. A review of both fiscal and operational data does not support that such action was taken or that a fiscal problem existed."
But the ongoing CBS4 investigation found internal parole documents that starkly contradict those statements and show that for years parolees have either been removed from ISP or not put on the restrictive parole in the first place due to budget issues.
CBS4 found parole records for Kandin Wilson that show that on Aug. 3, 2009, a parole supervisor considered placing the parolee, a known neo-Nazi with an 11-page criminal record, including assaults, burglaries and thefts, on ISP, but notes in Wilson's parole file say, "will not place due to program caps." The next month, in Colorado Springs, Wilson shot and killed Susanna Pelayo-Perez, a mother of four, as she sat in a parking lot. One prosecutor called it a random killing.
"These types of parolees need to be on the shortest leash possible," said McNulty. "And to use budget cuts as an excuse or reason to set them free in our communities simply isn't right."
McNulty reviewed the parole documents uncovered by CBS4 and compared them to earlier denials made by the parole department.
"Judging from the black and white you have in front of you it's hard to discount that. Clearly somebody is lying and we have to find out who," McNulty said.
McNulty called for Gov. John Hickenlooper to intervene.
"But when the information is brought in and it's in black and white and one of his agencies is putting public safety at risk, he has to do something about it," he said.
Eric Brown, a spokesman for Hickenlooper, said the governor is aware of the issue, which is being handled by the Department of Corrections.
CBS4 also found the case of parolee David Thomeier. Internal parole documents from 2008 indicate supervisors felt Thomeier, who had a lengthy history of assaults and escapes, should be placed on ISP. But in a computerized entry for Thomeier authored by a parole supervisor Wendy Kendall, she wrote that, "Due to fiscal restraints, offender will not be placed on ISP at this time."
In 2009 records for parolee Leon Askew note that he was "staffed off ISP due to program caps." Askew was then notified that he was being downgraded to "regular parole" and would only have to check in with parole twice a month.
In 2009 parole records show Tommy Olivarri was "removed from ISP based on compliance and program caps."
The same year parole supervisors decided parolee Troy Wilson should be on ISP. But an entry in his file notes, "Will not place at this time due to program caps."
CBS4 found the case of parolee Aronto Clayton, who had numerous parole revocations and escapes coupled with a lengthy criminal record. Notes in his file from June 2012 written by a supervisor say, "ISP recommended on release." However, in August 2012 parole documents show parole workers downgraded Clayton to regular parole writing, "Too many clients were on ISP, and they needed to be placed on regular parole due to scarcity of DOC funds." In a second entry a worker notes Clayton was taken off ISP "due to funds." He was told to turn in his ISP equipment "since he is no longer on ISP."
Records show that parolee James Galloway was placed on ISP when he was released from parole. But in August 2012, records show he was removed from ISP and a parole officer and supervisor wrote "that too many clients were on ISP, and they needed to be placed on regular parole, due to scarcity of DOC funds."
CBS4 found the same type of wording used to describe why a dozen offenders were released from ISP parole and placed on "regular" parole in 2012.
Colorado House Minority Leader Mark Waller was surprised and disturbed at what CBS4 had found.
"We certainly should not let people off ISP for monetary reasons. This is not a policy implication the department should be engaging in," Waller said. "Certainly on the surface it looks like there is an issue there. To remove people for monetary reasons does not seem like an appropriate policy decision to me."
Waller expressed concern that the parole and corrections department have denied financial management has affected the ISP program, but the CBS4 records reflect a dramatically different picture.
"Any time you have an agency violating the public trust, that's an issue that needs to be resolved," Waller said.
Waller said after seeing what CBS4 dug up, he was considering calling for a full-scale audit of the Department of Corrections.
Roger Werholtz, interim director of the Department of Corrections, reviewed the information provided by CBS4 and conceded that earlier denials by him and his department may have been inaccurate.
"I've gotten information since then that would seem to contradict the data we were given," Werholtz said
He said his staff had provided data claiming decisions about parolees were not being made for fiscal reasons.
"If people are being take off ISP or electronic monitoring to save money, I think that is inappropriate," said Werholtz.
He said he was immediately ordering parole officers and supervisors to stop that practice, that he and his department initially denied was occurring.
"I would say at this point we are reviewing data and trying to reconcile that," said Werholtz. "I'm trying to find out what the truth is at this point."
McNulty told CBS4 he has already begun working on new legislation to prohibit the parole department from removing parolees from ISP "unless their behavior indicates they are ready to do so. We are not going to be having corrections and the parole board putting violent criminals on our streets unsupervised -- that shouldn't be happening. You and the public were purposely misled or managers have no idea what's going on in their department," McNulty said.
- Written by Brian Maass for CBSDenver.com
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