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Teen Anger

After young Joe Gallegos was let back into society, all hell broke loose.

Gallegos was found guilty of the assault and was sentenced to two years in the custody of the state Division of Youth Corrections. He was initially sent to the equivalent of a penitentiary for a seventeen-year-old from the Western Slope: Grand Mesa Detention Center for juveniles in Grand Junction. He was there four months.

Officials decided to try another rehabilitation experiment on him, sending him to a two-month wilderness experience in Utah. After that, he went to a halfway house in Grand Junction. His caseworker from the Division of Youth Corrections refuses to comment on the case, but other employees of the juvenile system who worked with him say Gallegos was good at appearing to meet the goals of various programs. He did the little things--like folding his clothes or making his bed without being asked--that caseworkers liked to brag about.

After Gallegos made his bed at the halfway house for four months, his caseworkers proposed him for the Jacob Center, another experimental program that has had success in rehabilitating some juvenile offenders. The theory behind the Jacob Center, a private, nonprofit agency, is that a youth should come back to his own community to deal directly with victims, family problems, substance abuse and all the other "underlying problems." The actual residences of the Jacob Center are homes of families who are supposed to have enough training and experience to handle a sometimes violent felon. The population varies, but there are never more than a dozen juveniles in such homes on the Western Slope.

Before a juvenile can get into a proctor home with the Jacob Center, he or she has to be approved by a Community Evaluation Team (CET). The group is meant to be representative of various local agencies so that a good placement is made and the community is protected.

In the case of Cortez, that's exactly what happened. In early April 1996 the town's Community Evaluation Team considered a placement for Joe Gallegos and rejected him, although just why he was turned down is now a matter of some controversy. The official line after the Gallegos murders is that there were no Jacob Center proctor homes available in Cortez. But some people who attended the team's meeting say it was clear that Cortez officials didn't want this violent youth in their community; if he had been less of a risk, they might have been able to find a proctor home for him. "We didn't feel he would be a good risk to be in Cortez--or out in society in general," then-district attorney George Buck says. Although he was not at the meeting, Buck says, he made sure the team knew his opinion.

Jacob Center officials did not heed that warning, but it's unclear why, because they have refused to comment on the case. In any event, they began shopping Gallegos around, hoping to get a placement and the $65 per day that comes with it. Within weeks his case was brought to the Durango Community Evaluation Team. According to people present at the meeting, nobody on the Durango team knew about Gallegos's past and so depended on Jacob Center director Jerry Fields for information. Fields, who is no longer director of the Jacob Center, won't comment, saying only, "I have nothing to say."

At the time, the Durango CET okayed Gallegos for placement. Since the murders, that team has refused to answer any questions. The members did issue a press release: "When tragedy strikes our community at the hand of a young person that has been seen by the Team, we share the grief across the disciplines we all work in. We ask ourselves if we missed something or what we could have done to prevent the tragedy. Sadly, sometimes there are no answers." The press release does not say if this is one of those times. Some current and former members of the team say the answer is easy: They knew too little about Joseph Gallegos.

Rich Yeager, the team member representing the school district, says his recollection of the Gallegos meeting is that it was routine. "He was not presented as a higher risk than the typical kid that we see from Grand Mesa," says Yeager.

Kyle Ipson, a former member of the team who left just before the Gallegos case came up, says that from what he knows of the case, he wasn't surprised that the Durango team didn't get crucial information on Gallegos. Ipson, who was the representative from the Durango DA's office, says he grew tired of listening to Fields's appeals on behalf of juvenile offenders. As far as Ipson was concerned, Fields was more interested in getting placement fees. He says Fields argued that proctor homes were cheaper than incarceration. "He was always trying to pull the wool over everybody's eyes," Ipson says. "He would talk very specifically about the costs [of incarceration]. That was a big deal to Jerry, because that was money out of his budget."

But Ipson wasn't at that meeting, and those who were approved the placement of Joe Gallegos with a God-fearing family near the town of Bayfield.

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