June 10, 2012
The Michigan Department of Corrections has fired three employees for failing to properly supervise parolees and probationers accused of committing high-profile murders in recent months.
The agency also confirmed a fourth agent was suspended for 30 days, and a fifth agent remains on paid leave amid an internal investigation.
More discipline could be meted out as the Department of Corrections -- struggling to cut costs from its $2-billion budget -- faces increasing scrutiny over how effectively it supervises the 20,000 parolees and 50,000 probationers in the state.
MDOC Director Daniel H. Heyns acknowledged a failure by parolee and probation agents to follow the department's policies or supervision standards can have serious public safety implications.
"Our parole/probation staff performs critical functions that are vital to ensuring public safety," he said in a written statement to the Free Press. "The overwhelming majority of these employees do excellent work and help to make our communities safer."
The firings and suspension involve employees who supervised three people accused of murder in two cases: the brutal killing of an elderly Royal Oak woman in her home last November and the shooting death of a 12-year-old Detroit girl in January. The MDOC did not release the names of the employees involved.
The Free Press reported in both cases that the agents supervising those offenders failed to violate their parole or probation, despite the fact that they were suspected of committing new crimes. In the case of one offender, the agent also failed to activate a court-mandated electronic tether.
The UAW, which represents the agents, said the discipline was unfounded because the agents were following MDOC policies -- keep as many people as possible out of jail or prison -- and were operating under managers who approved of the decisions that led to their discipline.
UAW representative Rick Michael, who has worked as a probation officer for 26 years, said he expects the disciplined employees to fight those decisions.
"I believe that the union will be able to prove that there is a double standard in MDOC and that management is not capable of policing themselves," he said. "There is a double standard -- one for the agent and one for the manager -- and when something goes wrong due to some shortcoming with MDOC, the agents are always blamed."
Heyns said the department is putting measures in place to improve supervision.
"The governor has made it clear that the level of violence in southeast Michigan, Flint and Saginaw is unacceptable. The Michigan Department of Corrections has a role to play in reducing that violence," his statement said. "I am putting measures in place that will improve supervision of parolees and probationers throughout Michigan. The restructuring of Ryan Correctional Facility to provide more custody beds for parole violators, aggressively going after absconders, embedding parole officers into police departments and auditing case loads are examples of some of the changes we are making that I believe will enhance public safety."
Disciplinary actionIn the Royal Oak slaying case, the parole agent supervising suspect Alan Wood, 49, was fired, and the agent supervising suspect Tonia Watson, 40, was suspended for 30 days, the MDOC confirmed. The MDOC did not say exactly when the discipline occurred.
Wood and Watson are accused of robbing and killing Nancy Dailey, 80, in her Royal Oak home on Nov. 20.
The Free Press reported that in the weeks leading up to the killing, agents knew Wood and Watson were suspected of committing crimes but allowed them to remain free. Wood and Watson will stand trial on first-degree murder charges in July.
Michael took issue with placing blame on the agents.
"It was management who cut Alan Wood free," Michael said. "No agent can send a probationer or parolee back to prison without management approval. This agent went to her supervisors, and they're the ones who said, 'Set him free.' "
The MDOC also fired the probation agent supervising Joshua Brown, along with that agent's supervisor.
Brown, 19, is charged with first-degree murder in the death of 12-year-old Kade'jah Davis, who was shot through the door of her home Jan. 31 over what authorities said was an argument involving a missing cell phone.
Brown has an extensive criminal history, beginning when he was 10, and was placed on probation in September 2010 following drug and home invasion convictions. A judge ordered him to wear an electronic tether, but the probation officer never activated it, the Free Press reported in February.
Brown also was a suspect in an armed home invasion in December, but remained free.
Michael said Brown's probation officer was working to get him a landline -- necessary for an electronic tether -- when Kade'jah was shot.
"First of all, they have to have a telephone; we can't hook them up without one, and he was working on it," Michael said. "He is a very good agent, and his supervisor was aware of what was going on."
In a third recent case, a probation agent was placed on paid leave after losing track of 19-year-old Tucker Cipriano. Cipriano was ordered to stand trial Friday in the April 16 baseball bat attack on his family in Farmington Hills that killed his father and severely injured his mother and brother. The probation agent remains suspended and under investigation, according to the MDOC.
Cracking downMDOC spokesman Russ Marlan said the department has implemented new policies, is working to make more beds available for parole absconders and has cracked down on parolees and probationers who are not following the rules.
Among the changes:
• Four parole officers are being embedded in the Detroit Police Department, and one each in Royal Oak, Pontiac and Flint. The agents work directly with the police departments in supervising, and in some cases locating, parolees. "We believe this makes for much better communication," Marlan said, adding that several arrests have been made that otherwise might not have been. Around the time Dailey was killed, three police agencies were investigating Watson and Wood, but none of them was communicating with each other.
• A closed prison in Muskegon is being reopened and a parole absconder center is opening at Ryan Correctional Facility in Detroit to provide bed space to return violators to custody. MDOC officials have previously said their efforts were hampered because of prison overcrowding.
• An eight-point plan has been implemented that includes targeting high-risk absconders by working with state and federal fugitive apprehension teams. Other components include yearly audits of all case loads to catch mistakes, a website where citizens can provide anonymous tips about parole violators, and mandatory GPS tethers for parolees who commit technical violations.
• A Nighthawk program is being expanded. Agents, accompanied by local police, make unannounced visits to parolees' homes, looking for violations like drug and alcohol use, and ensuring the parolee actually lives at the home he or she has registered with the state.
"The message to offenders is that you need to follow the conditions put in place by the judges and the parole board or you will be held accountable," Heyns said in his statement.
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