Released offenders a deadly threat to law enforcement E-mail
Written by Kevin P. Morison   

For two decades, Franklin Township (NJ) Police Sergeant Ippolito “Lee” Gonzalez distinguished himself as a no-nonsense cop who had a keen eye for suspicious activity and never shied away from following his instincts. The night of May 6, 1995, was no different. At 10:30 p.m. – just a half hour before the end of his shift – Sergeant Gonzalez pulled over a suspicious vehicle occupied by two men. Working alone, he called for backup, but by the time assisting officers arrived, it was too late. As Sergeant Gonzalez was examining the driver’s license, he was shot twice, and died a few hours later.

After a brief chase, two men were arrested for the killing. One of them was paroled murderer Robert “Mudman” Simon, who had been released from a Pennsylvania prison just a few months earlier. In 1982, Simon was convicted of the heinous murder of his girlfriend.

Evidence revealed that Simon wanted her to have sex with other members of his motorcycle gang. When she refused, he pulled a gun and killed her. But after serving less than 15 years for that brutal crime, Simon was released back to the community, only to kill again. He was convicted of the murder of Sergeant Gonzalez and again sentenced to prison.

This time, however, there’s no chance he will ever be back in the community: Simon was murdered by another inmate in 1999. Of the myriad dangers law enforcement officers face today, attacks from offenders on parole, probation or other forms of judicial supervision pose a special threat. Over the years, studies on recidivism have consistently found that between two-thirds and three-quarters of offenders released from prison are arrested again within three years. Of particular concern to law enforcement is the fact that certain offenders released to the community vow never to be incarcerated again, no matter the cost.

These individuals are much more likely to seriously assault, and even attempt to kill, an officer rather than face the prospect of more prison time. The FBI’s “Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted” program identified 1,591 assailants who had feloniously killed law enforcement officers between 1987 and 2006. Of these, 350 killers – or 22 percent –- were on parole, probation or some other form of judicial supervision at the time the officers were killed. In recent years, the percentage has been even higher than the 20-year average.

In 2005, 44 percent of the known assailants were under judicial supervision; in 2006, the figure was 27 percent. The grave threat to law enforcement posed by some parolees has taken on new urgency this year in Philadelphia. On May 3, Philadelphia Police Sergeant Stephen Liczbinski was shot and killed with an SKS semi-automatic rifle after stopping three men who had just robbed a bank. All three were parolees with histories of violent crime.

Then on September 23, Officer Patrick McDonald was gunned down on a north Philadelphia street after a firefight with an offender who had recently been released from prison. Despite a history of violence inside the prison system, Daniel Giddings was paroled after serving 10 years of the 12-year sentence he had received for shooting a man in the knees and robbing him of $100 in 1998.

Within a week of his release, Giddings had escaped from a halfway house, after telling family members that he would never return to prison. After wounding Officer McDonald, the 27-year-old offender stood over the officer and fired several more times in what police officials called an execution. During the ensuing foot pursuit, Giddings was killed, clutching a .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun as he went down. In response to the officers’ killings, and at the urging of Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey and FOP Lodge 5 President John McNesby, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell announced in late September that he was halting all parole releases until an independent expert – Dr. John Goldkamp, chair of Temple University’s Department of Criminal Justice – completed a “top-to-bottom” review of how violent offenders are released.

While the dangers that parolees pose to law enforcement is getting renewed attention, the problem has existed for decades. According to the research records of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, one of the earliest officers to die at the hands of a parolee was Evansville (IN) Patrolman John Cain Jr. On June 14, 1914, Patrolman Cain and his partner responded to an unruly group outside the local saloon after closing time.

As the officers attempted to disperse the crowd, Robert Collier, a parolee from the Michigan City Prison, pulled a gun and shot Patrolman Cain several times. Some of the paroled cop killers had a history of violent encounters with police before their final, fatal attack. In June 1942, Davidson County (TN) Deputy Sheriff Melvin Fleming and Nashville Police Detective Charles Mundy were among the officers who responded to a report of public intoxication.

When Deputy Fleming attempted to arrest the suspect, Henry Hardcastle, he pulled a revolver and shot the deputy five times. Detective Mundy was killed in the subsequent gun battle, as was the suspect. Hardcastle had recently been released from prison after serving just six years for his involvement in the 1935 deaths of Kentucky Highway Patrolmen Robert Rowland and J.P. Hays. “I’m not going back to prison” is a sentiment often expressed by offenders released back to the community.

Tragically, some of them think nothing of attacking and killing a law enforcement officer in an attempt to stay out of prison. In October 1995, Teller County (CO) Sheriff’s Deputy Brent Holloway responded to an apparent arson at a deserted cabin outside Colorado Springs. The 27-year-old suspect, a parole violator wanted for burglary and car theft, didn’t want to go back to prison and decided to target a law enforcement officer.

He sneaked up on the unsuspecting deputy sitting in his patrol vehicle, opened the driver’s side door, and fired his shotgun at point-blank range into the deputy before committing suicide. Eleven years later and only miles away, Colorado Springs Detective Jared Jensen was shot and killed while attempting to arrest Jereme Lamberth, a career criminal who, while on parole, had viciously stabbed his own sister 13 times. When Detective Jensen approached the suspect at a bus stop, he drew a firearm and shot the officer in the face.

As the four-year veteran lay wounded on the pavement, Lamberth stood over him and emptied his weapon. Lamberth was recently sentenced to 192 years in prison: 96 for killing Deputy Jensen and 96 for the attempted murder of his sister … this time, one hopes, without the possibility of parole.

Kevin Morison is the Senior Director of Communications for the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.  Visit www.nleomf.org  for more information about law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty.


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