‘Deeply troubling’: Review of probation cases finds violations never came to light

A number of criminals under the state’s supervision may have gotten a free pass when their new offenses went unknown to their judge or prosecutor, WAVE News Tro
Published: Apr. 27, 2022 at 7:10 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - A number of criminals under the state’s supervision may have gotten a free pass when their new offenses went unknown to their judge or prosecutor, WAVE News Troubleshooters have learned.

In the last couple of weeks, Kentucky’s Division of Probation and Parole found a number of such cases during a review.

The review was prompted after a shooting which left a highway maintenance worker, Fred O’Bannon dead and LMPD Sgt. Chris Lane shot.

A new felony conviction for suspect Keyshaun Stewart had not been reported by his probation officer.

The problem affects cases across the state, some of which are already closed, according to at least four judges who spoke to WAVE News Troubleshooters off the record.

According to the Jefferson County Commonwealth’s Attorney, some of the cases involve violent offenses. Officials are now going through the reports to determine if any action needs to be taken.

“It tells me they had a systematic failure,” Lane’s attorney Tad Thomas said. “It cost somebody their life. It cost a good police officer, potentially, a career doing what he loved.”

Former Jefferson County Judge James Green was shocked that in some cases, the department failed to do one of its main responsibilities.

“This is an extraordinary problem,” Green said. “I’m not an angry guy, but I’d be borderline angry over this.”

A whistleblower contacted WAVE News Troubleshooters after a series of investigations uncovered the mistakes made by Probation Officer Chris Mull.

The source asked Troubleshooters to investigate because, they said, the department is a mess. They worried more innocent people could be hurt because of a lack of supervision, training, and accountability.

The source provided a letter dated March 4, 2022, instructing all officers to review their cases for charges or convictions that also went under the radar.

“If any charge or conviction is uncovered that the releasing authority has not previously been made aware of, a violation report shall be created and submitted immediately,” the letter states.

“I’d be on the phone with the justice department trying to find out what in the world is going on,” Green said.

A handful of judges who spoke to WAVE News off the record said they too want answers.

One judge said they noticed an influx of new violation, or special supervision, reports being given to them in the last couple of weeks. But, that person said, no one explained to them why.

That judge indicated some of the new information was so egregious, they immediately sent out orders for arrests.

Another judge said some of the new reports were for old cases, in which they can no longer do anything about.

“There’s clearly a lot of cases that are coming up where those victims aren’t going to get any justice,” Thomas said.

The Commonwealth’s Attorney Office also confirmed that since March 4, they’ve received “numerous” new supervision reports on infractions. Some of them involved violent cases.

“By failing to do that and failing to report a new conviction, they are making all of us less safe,” Thomas said. “Someone was going to be a victim of a criminal that should have been behind bars, and so it just so happened that it was Fred and Chris.”

Harvey said they are taking the issue extremely. That’s why, he explained, they conducted the review in the first place.

Their goal now is to find out exactly what happened and why in relation to the newly reported violations to prevent the problem from happening again.

He added their first impression is that it’s not a systemic problem, but one affecting individual cases. However, he did not provide a number of how many problematic reports there were. He said they are still going through the review process.

Harvey pointed to the 47,000 people under the state’s supervision. He admitted low pay and major turnover are huge problems for the department. But, he said, there is no excuse.

Thomas agreed.

“We, as the public, deserve a probation and parole system that protects us,” Thomas said.

Harvey said he hopes an eight percent increase in pay will help. He explained the division goes through a yearly audit to try to catch problems.

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron said it’s a major concern.

“Reports of individuals continuing to remain on parole after subsequent felony convictions are deeply troubling and pose a threat to our public safety,” he said. “These reports should be examined closely by the Department of Corrections to ensure that the necessary process and procedures are in place to prevent these situations from occurring, and to ensure that those who violate the terms of their parole are brought back into the justice system to serve their sentence.”

In the March 4 memo, the division’s director wrote that they will review the process in April after the manual record check is complete.

Mull was fired from the department for official misconduct after an internal investigation found a series of problems, stating he was aware of Stewart’s new arrest and conviction but did nothing with the information.

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