COURAGEOUS TESTIMONY — Parole officers Michael Murphy, Manuelita Clemente and others testify about internal affairs at an Assembly hearing. More than 200 parole officers attended to support those who testified.
— Photo by Deborah Miles
Members turn out by the hundreds at hearing
Parole officers reveal internal misconduct at Assembly hearing on correction
By DEBORAH A. MILES
A crowd of nearly 300 parole officers from across the state stood and applauded for those who testified at an Assembly hearing by the Standing Committee on Correction on January 11.
They were there to show support to the PEF leaders and parole officers who provided vivid examples of how internal policies implemented by state Division of Parole Executive Director Anthony G. Ellis II, are resulting in more street crime.
“Testimony from front-line parole officers will shock you,” PEF President Roger Benson told the committee.
He talked about the decrease in the number of parole officers, undistributed funding at the division, and aggressive retaliation against officers who have had the courage to publicly unveil the agency’s wrongdoings.
In response to questions posed by committee chair Jeffrion L. Aubry (D-Queens) about the alleged “unfit” practices within the agency, Benson said, “There has been a frontal attack on the Division of Parole for many years.
“The state has tried to destroy it from the outside, and that failed. Now, it’s going on from the inside, creating low morale through a paperwork-dominated environment.”
Internal misconduct prevails
One by one, other PEF leaders and parole officers testified about internal misconduct that has reared since Ellis took over in December 2003.
PEF Vice President Ken Brynien described how Theodore Cook, director of the parole division’s Office of Professional Responsibility, withheld access to medical care for parole officer James Carroll.
Carroll was injured in the line of duty by a parole violator who was threatening the lives of his estranged wife and her son.
“Heinous things are being done to parole officers,” said PEF Division 236 Council Leader and Manhattan-based parole officer Manuelita Clemente.
She testified about being a victim of departmental retaliation and assigned to a desk job after speaking at a press conference last year.
Sex offenders not monitored
Clemente also spoke about caseloads and sex offenders.
“Current caseloads do not give us the opportunity to properly monitor the parolees in our charge,” she said. “The Manhattan Special Offender unit has been cut in half, special operations are very limited, and electronic monitoring of sex offenders is very rare.
“Many of the sex offenders under parole supervision are being housed at public shelters, many with young children. It is terrifying to think these sex offenders are roaming our streets and public shelters without worrying about a surprise visit from their parole officer. Mr. Ellis has established rules that make such visits almost impossible,” Clemente said.
Misuse of power
Another area that affects public safety is the warrant quota policy that parole officers say Ellis implemented.
“The parole administration told parole officers they were not to arrest parolees for selling drugs, doing drugs, domestic disputes or curfew violations,” said Albany-based parole officer Ismael Cruz.
“Having a warrant quota, or limiting the number of dangerous parolees who can be removed from the street, jeopardizes public safety,” he said.
Cruz also described several incidents of misuse of power by higher ranking managers.
“On May 20 last year, a parolee was allowed by the supervisor of the Albany office to be freed despite the fact the parolee threatened the lives of his mother and sister, while possessing a crack pipe and testing positive for drugs,” Cruz said. “Instead of having him detained, the Albany bureau chief gave him $5 for cab money. The parolee took the cab to a bank which he robbed.
“The bureau chief has never been disciplined or held accountable for his actions,” Cruz said.
Bronx parole officer Michael Murphy testified how redundant paperwork may have attributed to the circumstances surrounding two murders — parolee Shamel Adams who allegedly beat to death a 22-month-old baby and Sheldon Becker, who allegedly stabbed Hector Lopez and his daughter. She died from her wounds.
“Both murders occurred less than a month ago,” Murphy said. “If parole officers were able to spend more time in the field with the parolee, instead of rushing back to do more paperwork, perhaps these tragedies would not have occurred.”
Other parole officers testified about the flaws and danger in the division’s new gun policy, redundant paperwork that keeps them at their desks instead of in the streets monitoring parolees, and use of their own vehicles.
“Our testimonies were powerful, but without the extraordinary support of our members, I do not believe it would have had the same impact on the legislators and the press. These members demonstrated how numbers and passion make a difference,” Benson said.
Aubry said if the Division of Parole imposes any type of retaliation to those officers who testified, he should be notified immediately. He also said since Ellis or Cook failed to attend the hearing, he would subpoena them to attend a second hearing to respond to these issues.
Parole officers should check with their member mobilizer for information on the second hearing.
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