Ohio parole system often delays escape charges

Posted at 11:11 PM, Feb 09, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-09 23:41:40-05

Ohio’s Adult Parole Authority often gives convicted felons who flee parole months before formally filing escape charges.

For example, when an Elyria man was nearly shot to death in a home invasion, his assailant spent six years in prison and was released on parole.

But he remained on the run for nine months after fleeing a half-way house before escape charges were sought.

His victim is now living in fear that his assailant “may return to finish the job."

A review of Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections records reveal nearly 1,300 convicted felons are listed as violators at large and fleeing authorities as fugitives.

They include murderers, rapists, child molesters and those charged with domestic violence.

Even so, an exclusive 5 On Your Side investigation found parole system policies can allow convicted felons to roam free for months before being charged with escape—a criminal charge that alleges they failed to report to their parole officer as scheduled or fled a half-way house.

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The delay can be significant because escape charges trigger warrants served by highly trained fugitive task force members who are dispatched to last known addresses, perform exhaustive searches and have orders to arrest on the spot.

Without escape charges, a parole violator may not be apprehended until pulled over for speeding, running a red light or committing another serious crime because the parolee is simply flagged in a police database 30 days after a parolee fails to report to scheduled parole meetings.

A review of more than 200 escape warrants requested by the Ohio Adult Parole Authority with Cuyahoga County prosecutors last year revealed 86 parole violators were given at least three months to nearly a full year head start before escape charges were sought.

In Ohio, there are more than 35,000 felons who are on parole, and in many cases, they are required to report to parole authorities on a regular basis as conditions of parole.

In fact, when defendants are sentenced to prison they are often instructed that once released, they may be required to obey certain conditions of parole or face being returned to prison.

Parole authorities insist that parole officers do check on parolees by speaking with family members or friends, but concede that organized, targeted searches performed by fugitive task force members do not happen until escape charges are filed.

Steve Vukmer is a regional administrator for the Ohio Adult Parole Authority in Cleveland and has 28 years experience in tracking down fugitives.

But Vukmer said “it varies” when escape charges are filed and the determination is made by the parole officer and supervisors.

“We’re kind of opposed to indicting guys for new felonies if they just didn’t report for a month,” Vukmer said.

And he disagreed that filing escape charges more quickly would lead to swifter apprehension and instead believed “you have to give them the benefit of the doubt” if they fail to report.

“Maybe it would,” Vukmer said, “but again, if we get too premature indicting these guys for an escape, more often than not, they just happen to show up in our office because they forgot to report.”

Vukmer also insisted that parolees in Ohio have one of the lowest rates of re-offending, or committing more crime in the nation.

Ohio’s recidivism rate is 27 percent compared with the national average of 49 percent.

The most successful fugitive task force in the nation is operated by the U.S. Marshals Office for Northern Ohio.

It was founded in the years following the shooting death of a Cleveland police officer 16 years ago and since then has rounded up 40,000 fugitives.

“Half the police officers killed in the line of duty in the last 20 years have been killed by fugitives on the run,” U.S. Marshal Peter J. Elliott said.

“People out there are on the run, desperate—so they’ll do anything to run from the law and they have.”