Thunder in the Vicinity
Oct 12, 2016
The state opened its newest parole field office in an office complex on 2nd Avenue in Aurora in July, requiring more than 1,000 parolees to report there regularly to meet with their parole officers.
In the days before the office opened, a state supervisor wrote an email that disturbed parole officers enough to contact Denver7 Investigates, reading in part:
I have been informed the other tenants in the building do not know exactly what we do or the nature of our business. Those tenants who have asked were told by property managers that we are a ‘state advocacy group.’ I anticipate the truth will be revealed at some point but I would like to stress we remain as low key as possible. Please make sure you are in full compliance with the dress code to include concealment.
A parole officer, who requested anonymity because he feared retaliation, told Denver7 Investigates on camera the memo was “disingenuous at best” and “dishonest” at worst.
“You expect your leadership to act in the same way that they expect you to act,” the officer said.
The other tenants of the building include an alternative school for students as young as 17, a program for the children of immigrants, a doctor’s office, and a program for teenage parents.
Internal records obtained by Denver7 Investigates show close to 60 sex offenders reported to the building on one July day, just weeks after that state memo indicated the other tenants of the building were told their new neighbors were just a “state advocacy group.”
“It's just it's been very uncomfortable for a lot of people in our office,” said one office manager who asked that her name not be used. “In our field, we have students. I can say here we have many families coming and going with small children.”
Several members of the Denver7 Investigates team spent several days watching the new office with hidden cameras and discovered parolees having difficulty finding the new office.
The state’s parole office is located on the bottom floor of the complex. The only entrance to the state office is located in a loading dock area. Signs for the office say only “State of Colorado” with no mention of parole. That frequently led parolees to walk into the main lobby and ask tenants where to find the parole office.
An employee at one tenant was heard on hidden camera pointing a parolee in the right direction and decrying the confusion, saying, “That’s the state for you!”
Tenants in the building say they generally found out about the parole office from those questions – not from their property manager, and not from the state. And many were outraged when they read the email from a state manager telling parole officers that other tenants were under the impression they were a state advocacy group.
“What’s your reaction to what you read?” Denver7 chief investigative reporter Tony Kovaleski asked Maria Bohnet, administrator at a hospice business located inside the office complex.
“I feel lied to. Certainly I don't feel like they were honest. I think the state has a duty to be honest with us,” Bohnet responded.
"Very disturbing," the other office manager said. “That says they're trying to hide something."
The new office is located directly across the street from a condominium complex with a playground where children are frequently seen playing.
“When the office was being leased … having construction completed on it, we had heard the stories [that] there's a playground right there,” the veteran parole officer said. “When we got there, sure enough… right across the street from the entrance is that playground where children were right there that day.”
At one point, Denver7 Investigates captured hidden camera video of two young boys crossing the street from the playground and entering the office building bouncing a basketball.
“It scares the hell out of me,” the parole officer said. “We have our job to do and we need a place to do it, but people need to be aware.”
A manager from the condominium complex said he did not know about the new parole office until Denver7 Investigates started asking questions. He said he planned to ask the state to put up signs near the playground to notify residents.
Colorado’s director of adult parole, Melissa Roberts, said the state followed all of its legal obligations by notifying Aurora city officials the new office would be moving in.
"Whose responsibility was it to notify the tenants the neighbors that you were moving in?” Kovaleski asked.
“My understanding is there's no legal obligation for anyone to do that,” Roberts said.
Roberts insisted her officers have done nothing to hide the nature of their business at any time. She was unaware of the email sent to parole officers about the “state advocacy group” until Denver7 Investigates brought it to her attention.
“I have concerns about, obviously, the lack of communication by the individuals with whom we have a lease. But … we want to be respectful of how they have given us the opportunity to site an office there. That's no small feat,” Roberts said.
“Can you see how it looks deceptive?” Kovaleski asked.
“Absolutely,” Roberts responded. “I think we could do a better job of communicating with the individuals impacted by our presence.”
Roberts said the state would investigate the email and meet with tenants to find out their concerns. She said the state would consider changing the signs at the building to make it clear there is a parole office. She also said the state would use this case as a learning experience as it looks to open more field offices in more communities across Colorado.
I think what we need to remember is the reason that we put the office there. And that's because these are people who live in their community. It's there because it's accessible to them, so they're not traveling in from other areas... It's where they live. It's where they work. It's where they're raising their families" -- Melissa Roberts
The state’s email indicated the idea to term the new office as a “state advocacy group” originated with the property manager. Every tenant Denver7 Investigates spoke to said the building’s manager did nothing to notify them about the parole office moving in.
“This building is a community. I want to know who’s here. I want to know who's going to be on our parking lot,” tenant Maria Bohnet said.
“I think that we should have had some deeper discussions with the property managers,” CDOC’s Melissa Roberts said. “I certainly respect their business and what they need to analyze and juggle when they make these decisions.”
The state of Colorado’s lease with the building stipulates that parolees will not enter through the main lobby or loiter in common areas:
A week before the parole office moved in, the property managers disabled the elevator in the main lobby from reaching the bottom floor where the state was moving in. But a memo obtained by Denver7 Investigates shows the property manager gave tenants another reason for the elevator changes:
“I don't particularly like being a tenant for a company that is not going to be truthful, and I certainly don't enjoy … being in a state where they're not going to be truthful with me either,” Bohnet said. “I think that's really the bottom line. For me, it's not so much about them being parolees… it's just about not being told the truth by our building and the state.”
The property manager listed on the memo, Dottie Regas of MC Commercial Real Estate, refused to answer questions about any attempts to deceive tenants in the building, writing in an email:
We, at MC Commercial Real Estate, only manage this property for the Owner. We have absolutely nothing to do with leasing and who occupies the building. All decisions are made by, and directions come to us via, the Ownership.
The owners, listed in the lease as living in California, did not respond to Denver7’s requests for comment.
The state's director of adult parole Melissa Roberts sent a detailed memo to Denver7 late Wednesday, laying out steps to address issues brought to light by our investigation including plans to meet with the tenants, property manager, owners, neighbors and the staff at the Aurora parole office.