Jeffrey Wells, a Department of Corrections parole officer based in Grand Junction, is well regarded by his fellow employees, who recently named him top employee of the quarter. But he's less venerated by John Morgan and three other parolees, who are currently suing him for allegedly forging documents in order to keep them behind bars longer than is allowed by law. And their attorney suspects the problem may not stop with him.
"From the documents we're getting, it seems like a bigger issue," says Siddhartha Rathod, who also represents four alleged victims in the Denver Diner police brutality case. "I can't prove this yet, but I think through discovery we'll be able to prove this has been going on across the board -- that parole officers are routinely holding people beyond the allowable time."
Such accusations are fairly common, Rathod concedes. "I typically get a lot of calls from inmates, but more so from mothers, wives, brothers, fathers saying, 'My child has been unlawfully revoked on parole.' And parolees are often on the fringes of society: They're in custody, so they don't have a lot of money, and some don't have a lot of support services. They're a group of people who, when they're on parole, can easily be abused."
Rathod believes that was the case with Morgan and fellow plaintiffs Dustin Cook, Paul Stark and Jerrod Thoele. And he's got a report from the DOC's Office of the Inspector General to back up his assertions.
The analysis was undertaken, Rathod says, due to suspicion that Wells, who's worked as a parole officer since 2006, had made misrepresentations on his job application. But over the course of the inquiry, the complaint states, a DOC investigator "discovered" that Wells "had repeatedly held parolees, once they were arrested, longer than permitted by Colorado law and DOC administrative regulations," which "require that a parolee be served with a complaint or released within ten working days of his arrest, and that he be given a parole hearing within thirty days of his arrest."
Examples? Morgan, who was placed on parole in July 2009, failed a urinalysis test in early September. As such, he was arrested on the 21st of that month. However, action was not taken against him in a timely fashion, and on October 15, the state parole board dismissed the complaint against him for that reason -- yet Morgan was not released. Instead, Wells allegedly "indicated that he planned to re-file the complaint" against him. He then released Morgan from Park County Jail but put an arrest hold on him at Mesa County Jail, the lawsuit maintains. More delays followed, and as a result, Rathod contends that Morgan was unlawfully held in custody from October 15 until May 14 -- more than six months.
In Rathod's view, parolees don't deserve such treatment despite their past deeds. "If you've been incarcerated and released, you've paid for your offense," he points out. "You've been punished. But these parolees come out and they're looking for jobs, trying to become productive members of society, and most of them can't afford attorneys -- so parole officers have immense power over their lives.
"When parole officers revoke them, they don't have a right to counsel. And when they don't have a right to counsel, no one is able to say, 'You're violating this person's statutory and constitutional rights.' And that's when these crimes -- and it is a crime to do this when you're forging a document and falsely imprisoning someone -- go unreported and people are improperly incarcerated for extended periods of time."
As the case works its way through the system, Wells remains on the job. Not that his departure would necessarily solve the problem.
"I hope this hasn't been happening more broadly," Rathod says. "I hope the Department of Corrections has not been unlawfully holding people and ruining people's lives. But I fear evidence will point in the direction of this going beyond parole officer Wells. I think this is a problem throughout the entire Department of Corrections."
Look below to see a 9News report on the case, followed by a copy of the lawsuit.
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