We're not calling for heads to roll at the Board of Pardons or anything like that. What we're asking for is a comprehensive review. Our contention is that violent offenders are being released when they shouldn't be. We want to find out why (the board is) making the decisions they're making. —Fraternal Order of Police President Brent Jex
SALT LAKE CITY — Ten years ago, Salt Lake County sheriff's deputy Brett Miller pulled over a domestic-violence suspect, stepped out of his patrol car and was walking toward the man's vehicle.
What Miller didn't know was that the suspect, James Israel Torres, had recently injected himself with methamphetamine, broken into a pawn shop and stolen several firearms.
As Miller was walking toward the vehicle, Torres pointed a shotgun out the window, pulled the trigger and hit the deputy in the face and hand. Miller was able to return fire and grazed Torres' head. Torres then rammed Miller's car with his vehicle. He was arrested moments later when backup deputies arrived.
Torres was eventually convicted and sentenced to five years to life in prison for attempted aggravated murder, burglary, receiving stolen property and five counts of violating a protective order.
Ten years later, just over a week to the day, Utah County Sheriff's Sgt. Cory Wride was shot and killed after stopping to help what appeared to be a stranded motorist. Like Miller, Wride was shot without warning. He had returned to his patrol car and was sitting inside when a gun was fired out the back window of the pickup truck in front of him.
In both of those incidents, and other similar incidents of violence, the Utah Fraternal Order of Police believe the gunmen — both convicted felons — should have still been in prison.
Now, the group is calling on the governor to take a look at the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole.
"We're not calling for heads to roll at the Board of Pardons or anything like that. What we're asking for is a comprehensive review," said Fraternal Order of Police President Brent Jex. "Our contention is that violent offenders are being released when they shouldn't be. We want to find out why (the board is) making the decisions they're making."
Jex couldn't say if the problem lies in funding, the way the parole board system is set up or somewhere else. But his group believes those who commit violent crimes should serve more prison time than someone who, for example, is forging checks.
"I think they need to look at the nature of the offense. It may be (an inmate's) first arrest, but they have to look at the nature of the crime," he said. "I can't tell you how many times we deal with somebody who's on parole that's been released for crimes of violence."
Utah Board of Pardons and Parole spokesman Jim Hatch declined to comment on the letter the police organization sent to the governor. Following Wride's death, however, he issued a statement regarding Jose Angel Garcia-Juaregui, 27, the man who shot both Wride and Utah County sheriff's deputy Greg Sherwood before he was killed in a shootout with officers.
Garcia-Juaregui had served prison time for attempted murder after running over an acquaintance and stabbing him multiple times with a screwdriver while intoxicated in 2007.
Garcia-Juaregui was 20 years old when he was sentenced. It was his first offense, Hatch noted. The recommended sentencing guideline was 32 months in prison. He ended up serving about 60 months. During a parole hearing in 2008, no victims showed up to the hearing to speak against his release. "We were informed they had most likely returned to Mexico," Hatch said.
Garcia-Juaregui was granted a 2012 parole date. Immigration officials also determined that Garcia-Juaregui was "not deportable," according to Hatch, although there was no explanation for that conclusion.
An arrest warrant for absconding parole had been issued for him the day before Wride's death.
"Cleary if people are being released who are not rehabilitated, who are not ready to come back on the streets we’re very concerned,” said Fraternal Order of Police attorney Bret Rawson.
Rawson hopes the board will conduct its own review rather than having an audit conducted.
Jex said he would just like to see criminals serve the appropriate time, based on the type of crime committed and the person's background.
"We're not saying for a second that people don't deserve to be locked up for their crimes. But if we're going to have limited bed space, we have to prioritize who is a bigger danger to the community."
He said his group also plans to send similar letters to the House and Senate judiciary committees arguing that too many prosecutors are giving lenient plea deals to offenders in order to avoid trials.
Contributing: Andrew Adams