Department of Corrections: New reports show workers, vendors need more training, better policies

DENVER - The Colorado Department of Corrections on Friday announced the findings of two independent reports on its policies and procedures.

The reports came after a parolee cut off his ankle monitor and went on to kill DOC chief Tom Clements and another man, Nate Leon. The parolee, Evan Ebel, was shot and killed days later in a shootout with police in Texas.

"It's not a report card or an audit. What we get is direction -- where we should be going, what we should be doing for the future of Corrections," said DOC executive director Rick Raemisch.

Raemisch said the recommendations include tightening up policies for electronic monitoring.

"There needs to be more direction for parole officers," Raemisch said. He said they need more guidelines and more training to determine what they should do when a monitor is alerted.

Raemisch said they also need to give the vendors that are monitoring the devices more direction -- such as when to call a police officer.

Raemisch said the report didn't necessarily suggest more money be spent, but rather, that DOC become more efficient.

The report also recommended reviewing prison programs including how they take care of anger management and improve an inmate's social skills, Raemisch said.

"We have more to gain by working with these offenders, trying to change their behavior," said Gov. John Hickenlooper.

The governor said he wants "offenders successfully reentering society in a way that keeps our community safe."

Raemisch promised the report would not sit on the shelf, but rather, officials would use the information to make changes.

-- How the investigation began --

When Ebel was released from prison on Jan. 28, 2013, he was put in a special supervision program for the most dangerous parolees. Ebel cut off his ankle monitor on March 14, but it took five days for officers to request an arrest warrant.

On March 17, Nate Leon was gunned down while working his part-time job as a pizza delivery driver. It was a job he did one day a week to earn extra money for his family.

Officials believe Ebel used Leon's Domino's delivery uniform to disguise himself when he ambushed Clements two days later.

"I want in big letters, Nathan Collin Leon, the loving husband and father; the 27-year-old man that got murdered for a t-shirt," Leon's wife Katie told CALL7 Investigator Theresa Marchetta during an exclusive interview.

Leon's Domino's Pizza gear was found in Ebel's car after the Texas shootout.

Clements was killed while answering the door at his home in Monument on March 19.

"That horrific night, you know the sound of that doorbell and all that happened: it was just unmentionable darkness. But I trust that people will see light come through, that they'll see that he lived a good life and people's lives were impacted by that," Clements' widow Lisa told CNN.

Hours before that murder, and five days after Ebel's ankle monitor sounded a tamper alarm, parole officers spent a grand total of five minutes searching Ebel's apartment. The search lasted from 4:20 p.m. to 4:25 p.m.

Former Parole Director Tim Hand told the Denver Post that Ebel was working off a hit list.

"Evan Ebel killed Clements and (Denver tech professional Nate Leon), but there were a lot of other people who had their fingerprints all over this," said Hand.

Letters from other 211 Crew members, the white supremacist gang to which Ebel belonged, included additional names of potential targets, Hand said.

 

-- Changes in DOC management --

After Clements' murder,  Hickenlooper named a retired Kansas Department of Corrections to temporarily fill the role. Roger Werholtz took the lead of Colorado's prison system on April 22.

“I look forward to continuing the work begun by Tom Clements, who had set a course for the Department of Corrections that focused on the latest corrections research and practices,” Werholtz said after the announcement of his new role.

During his first day, Werholtz pledged to reporters that he'd spend time talking with employees to find out what needs to be fixed.

"Each person who talks to me about their issues, that is important to them. What I've gotta do is hear from everybody and try to sort those out," he said.

Later that day he admitted the parole division would be part of his focus, but he declined to provide details at that time.

Werholtz's impact on the parole division didn't stay secret for long.

CALL7 Investigator Theresa Marchetta obtained an email from Werholtz on May 22 that said, "after careful thought and discussion over the past several days, I am ready to advise you that Mr. Hand will be away on a temporary leave of absence. In his absence, I have requested Steve Hager to assume leadership of the Division of Adult Parole, Community Corrections and the Youthful Offender System."

The leave of absence lasted until June 14, when Marchetta confirmed with multiple sources that Werholtz decided to fire Hand and keep Hager as the interim director of the parole division.

 

-- Parole officers getting new equipment --

In May, the CALL7 Investigators exposed officers were issued bullet proof vests that expired five years ago.

A community parole officer told CALL7 Investigator Theresa Marchetta in an exclusive interview officers were often issued non-working radios and lacked appropriate safety gear.

On Monday, June 3, Steve Hager sent an email out to his staff stating the department would now be purchasing new equipment, but stopped short of promising new bullet proof vests to replace the expired ones.

Hager told parole officers the DOC would purchase 76 new stun guns, 25 additional radios and 160 holsters. He didn’t say if or when new bullet proof vests would be purchased, writing only, "The discussion surrounding tactical/ballistic vests is and has been at the fore front of our discussions, and there appears to be many moving parts that must be taken into consideration as we move forward in developing a pland [sic] to address this issue."

The CALL7 Investigators learned about the safety issue though a parole officer, whose identity we are protecting because he said employees have been warned they will be fired for talking to reporters.

When asked in May if the DOC is purchasing newer vests for officers, spokeswoman Alison Morgan said, "With the hiring of new officers, the Division was allocated, by the General Assembly, for start-up funds for bullet proof vests. The Division will pay for half and the officer will be responsible for the remainder."

It is unclear if officers will have to pay half the costs of the new vests Hager wrote about in the email.

The National Institute of Corrections trains Department of Corrections employees, calling into question the agency’s ability to be objective in a third-party evaluation.

The only non-DOC member of the team doing the assessment Is Joe Ferrando, the assistant to fired parole director Tim Hand, who is now the director Of Larimer County Corrections.