READ: PA Department of Corrections review of 5 homicides involving parolees in July

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections said Thursday it found no evidence of misconduct or policy or rule violations that "would have reasonably affected the outcomes" of five homicide cases involving parolees that occurred across the state in July, including one in Dauphin County and one in Lancaster.

In a 33-page report summarizing its review of the parole process involving the suspects involved in the homicides, the DOC said there is "no indication of any alarming trends with regard to parole releases or arrests."

PA DOC -- Sentinel Event Reviews of Parolee Homicides

The DOC said it did identify gaps in policies and practice that should be addressed, including:

  • Inconsistent discretionary decisions around detention when aberrant behavior exists
  • Insufficient information sharing with law enforcement entities and those tasked with providing information
  • Ineffective access to information to improve decision making from DOC/Parole staff

The DOC initiated a review of the parole process after five homicide cases involving parolees occurred in July. Those cases involved:

  • Calvin Purdie: accused of killing the mother of his girlfriend in her Derry Township home, then setting the home on fire to cover up the murder on May 23. The victim, Charlotte Chaplin, was found dead in her bedroom. An autopsy determined Chaplin died of strangulation. Purdie turned himself into authorities on or about July 16, 2019 and has been charged with criminal homicide and arson. He was paroled from SCI-Camp Hill in October 2018.
  • James Sterbinsky: Accused of fatally stabbing his sister and niece in his Lancaster home on July 19. Sterbinsky also stabbed his nephew, who survived, authorities say. He is charged with two counts of criminal homicide and one count of attempted homicide. He was paroled from SCI-Camp Hill in March 2017.
  • Christian Bey: accused of being involved in the fatal shooting of Calvin Hall, an off-duty Pittsburgh Police officer who died on July 17 after being shot several times in the Homewood section of Pittsburgh on July 14. On July 18, parole supervision staff learned that Bey may have been involved in the shooting. Parole agents took Bey into custody, and he is currently being held in the Allegheny County Jail pending charges. He was paroled from SCI-Mercer in July 2017.
  • David Haas: accused of murdering the two-year-old son of his girlfriend on June 29.  He was arrested in Baltimore County, Maryland on July 9 and charged with child abuse (first degree; death of a child less than 13 years) and first-degree murder. According to recent reports from Maryland Parole, Haas is currently detained in the Baltimore County Detention Center. He was paroled from SCI-Laurel Highlands in August 2017.
  • Keith Burley: accused of fatally stabbing a seven-year-old boy in Union Township, he was apprehended in Youngstown, Ohio on July 9 and charged with criminal homicide. Burley was paroled from SCI Fayette on March 28.

Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel called each one of the murders "a tragedy," at a press conference, and said the goal of the review was to determine whether there were any shortcomings in each case individually and to identify whether there are any themes or policies that should be modified to make such events less likely.

“Our review identified no evidence of misconduct or policy or rule violations that would have reasonably affected the outcomes in these cases,” Wetzel said. “It also found that, within the last 10 years, the parole grant rate for violent crimes has decreased and rearrest rates of parolees are relatively stable. There is no indication of any alarming trends with regard to parole releases or arrests.”

Wetzel also said that the DOC, under direction of Executive Deputy Secretary for Community Corrections and Reentry George Little, is in the process of reviewing ALL active parole cases –33,827 individuals -- to ensure they are being supervised at the proper level. It is expected that this review will be completed within 60 days.

The following recommendations were made and will be implemented, according to the DOC:

  • Develop a domestic violence protocol to ensure consistent decision making.
  • Increase, enhance information sharing with those who make recommendations to the Board of Probation and Parole.
  • Establish protocol to ensure consultation with district attorneys when a parolee receives a new charge or is detained.
  • Launch a database so that law enforcement and others may easily ascertain whether an individual is on parole supervision.
  • Expedite parole absconder case assignment to the Fugitive Apprehension Search Team (FAST) Unit.
  • Reassessment of technical parole violator cases prior to release to ensure proper level of supervision is assigned.
  • Use the Violence Forecasting Model (also known as the Berk Tool).
  • Issue an RFP for a new risk/needs assessment tool that pulls information for the risk assessment from existing data; and begin use of the new tool within one year.
  • Formalize parole recommendation guidelines for superintendents that will be used to dictate what information shall be considered.
  • Conduct semi-annual reviews of all critical incidents, with the review being co-chaired by the DOC secretary and chief counsel.
  • Augment the DOC’s Field Agent Training program.

The following legislative action is recommended:

  • Supporting legislation that closes the “court of record” loophole that exists in convicted parole violator and technical parole violator cases.
  • Adding a sixth violation category that addresses a parolee’s continued failure to adhere to recommended programming and/or conditions.
  • Creating a committee that will review and report annually on all murders committed by individuals on parole.

PA DOC -- Sentinel Event Reviews of Parolee Homicides.

The Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association originally called for an independent review of the parole system.

They renewed their call for an independent review on Wednesday.

President Larry Blackwell issued the following statement:

“While we cannot comment on a report we only just received, the PSCOA reiterates its call for an independent examination into Pennsylvania’s parole process. A recent spate of murders allegedly committed by parolees demands our commonwealth do more than just trust the DOC to address these horrific crimes. The department’s contention that the number of murders allegedly committed by parolees has been consistent isn’t a defense; it’s a condemnation of a system that is letting too many violent criminals out of prison and putting Pennsylvanians at risk.

“The loss of one life is one too many. Pennsylvania shouldn’t ignore an inmate’s violent history simply because they learn how to game the system to make parole. Separately, we understand inmates are being coached on what to say in their parole hearings. We also understand that parole officers are being told not to bring parole violators back to jail for violations. Serious consideration must be given to slowing down the parole process until a thorough, independent review can be completed. Lives of innocent Pennsylvanians depend on it.”

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