SALT LAKE CITY — Two Utah Department of Corrections administrators have resigned amid criticism and calls for scrutiny after parolees who walked away from a halfway house were involved in violent crimes, including the shooting death of a police officer.
Rollin Cook, the department's executive director, announced Thursday that he "accepted the resignations" of Geri Miller-Fox, director of the division of Adult Probation and Parole, and Wendy Horlacher, regional administrator for AP&P Region 3, which includes Salt Lake, Tooele and Summit counties. Cook offered no additional comment about their departures.
The announcement came hours after Gov. Gary Herbert announced an independent review is underway in light of parolees who have walked away from Fortitude Treatment Center and committed crimes, pledging that any "derelict" employees will be fired.
"We know that errors have occurred. We need to find out what caused those, whether it's been ignorance or intentional. And these mistakes made by employees are inexcusable," Herbert said.
The review will be led by Kristen Cox, head of his office of management and budget, and will include an audit of the internal controls, arrest records and communications processes of local law enforcement, courts and state parole entities.
In its announcement of the resignations, the Department of Corrections touted efforts made in the last 24 hours to enhance management and supervision of offenders, specifically those who have been released into the community.
Those include new sweeps of halfway houses that sent 38 parolees back to jail or the Utah State Prison after they tested positive for drugs or were caught in other noncompliant behavior, according to the department. Sixteen others were rounded up in the community for parole violations, including many who walked away from the facilities.
Nine of those 38 parolees were arrested in a weekend sweep at the Fortitude Treatment Center in Salt Lake City, 1747 S. 900 West. Twelve of the 16 offenders had walked away from Fortitude.
The Department of Corrections has halted all placements of probation or parole violators in its treatment centers. The department says additional measures will include:
- Suspending off-site job hunts over Presidents Day weekend for parolees currently in community facilities.
- Starting Tuesday, only those with verified job appointments will be allowed to leave the centers for a maximum of four hours.
- Corrections employees will also be verifying employment and work hours for anyone currently housed in a community facility and requiring an escort for anyone going to medical appointments.
- On-site substance abuse and other programs will be increased at the facilities in order to reduce the number of people leaving for treatment.
- Community correctional center residents who are in compliance and have an approved, appropriate addresses will be transitioned to intensive supervision in the community.
In response to Thursday's resignations, James Hudspeth will leave his post as director of the department's Law Enforcement Bureau to act as interim director for Adult Probation and Parole. Deputy Corrections Director London Stromberg will lead the Law Enforcement Bureau until a new director is found.
In his remarks Thursday, Herbert also called for "a full review of all operations and procedures" at Fortitude, where over the past year, corrections officials say an average of five people walk away every week.
Cory Lee Henderson walked away from Fortitude just weeks before he shot and killed Unified officer Doug Barney last month. Henderson, 31, shot and wounded another officer before being shot to death by police.
Robert Richard Berger, 48, walked away from the same treatment center in September before he broke into two Salt Lake homes and nearly stabbed a woman to death in one of them. A police officer shot and killed Berger during that attack, saving the woman's life.
Other crimes committed by parolees walking away from the treatment center include a man who allegedly rammed a police patrol car on Tuesday while attempting to avoid arrest. Police are still looking for that man, Tommy Burnham, 29. He walked away from Fortitude on Jan. 28.
The program at Fortitude is designed to offer supervision and treatment for parolees, allowing them to check out in order to look for employment, go to school and see family. Neighbors of the facility shared mixed feelings Thursday about the impact the program and its residents have had on the Glendale area.
One man said he has never had any issues with his Fortitude neighbors and was not bothered by news about the number of parolees who walk away from the program weekly.
"I see them walking up the street every once in a while, but no concerns on my end," the man said.
A woman who has lived in the area for 55 years, however, said things haven't been the same since the facility and others like it were built.
"It has gotten scary around here," she said. "It never was like this. Years ago we could just go to bed, and if it was hot in the summer, because we didn't always have air conditioning, we left our doors open. Now you don't dare do anything without everything locked up."
Herbert said because of the review, it's "probably premature for me to give any specifics" about whether employees at the treatment center were involved in allowing parolees to walk away.
"I appreciate the tremendous work and sacrifice of those involved in law enforcement," the governor said during his monthly news conference on KUED Ch. 7. "The overwhelming majority of these folks are dedicated and committed to doing their best effort to keep us safe."
Herbert said they "go out the door every day and put their life on the line in that effort to have us be in a safe environment, and we need to do all we can to protect them."
He said if the audit finds employees "derelict in their sworn duty, they will face discipline up to and including termination. I expect the local jurisdictions will respond in a similar fashion."
The state's new Justice Reinvestment Initiative should also be continually reviewed to ensure it's working as intended, the governor said, although he said there's no reason to change it at this point. The initiative emphasizes the importance of treatment and rehabilitation rather than just incarceration.
"It's probably too early to tell the cause and effect," Herbert said, noting the initiative is aimed at nonviolent offenders, particularly those with mental health and substance abuse issues.
But the governor stressed that Henderson — not the new effort to help offenders transition to a life out of prison — is to blame for Barney's death after the officer responded to a traffic accident in Holladay on Jan. 17.
"Let's make sure we are clear about the issue in the shooting. That was his (Henderson's) responsibility and he's at fault. It's not anybody else," Herbert said. "He's the one who pulled the trigger."
An internal review by the Utah Department of Corrections revealed that a communication breakdown contributed to Henderson's release from prison to the Fortitude center, despite the fact that he was facing new federal firearms charges stemming from his most recent parole violation.
That review found that misinformation provided by a supervisor prevented the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole from receiving information about Henderson's latest arrest, and that a detainer from federal authorities ordering him to remain in custody wasn't entered into the department's system until almost a month later, after Henderson had already been released from prison and absconded from Fortitude.
Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said looking at ways to fix the parole system will be a top priority during the legislative interim.
"We have some grave concerns about what's going on there," he said. "I suspect there will be some bills coming not this session but next session."
Niederhauser said lawmaker want to digest the recent audit of the parole board and consider policy changes and possibly increased funding for a system that still operates on paper.
"There are some procedural problems and best practices issues that I think are even more important to get to the bottom of," he said.
Contributing: Alex Cabrero, Dennis Romboy7 comments on this story