Catch 22 at the Colorado Parole Board
The Colorado Statesman
In 1981 the police drama Hill Street Blues began its award winning seven season run on NBC. Throughout the series Daniel J. Travanti and Veronica Hamel, a police captain and public defender, were romantically involved and many episodes ended with them talking in bed after long days at the office comparing notes on their respective challenges. I distinctly recall an episode where Hamel complained to Travanti about how one of her clients was being mistreated by the police. Travanti (Captain Frank Furillo) responded by saying, “Joyce, don’t you understand, we’re both working for different divisions of the same waste removal outfit?” That observation has stuck with me for nearly three decades each time I contemplate the American system of justice.
On Tuesday, May 28, the Colorado Parole Board, yet another criminal trash management agency, scheduled a hearing for Homaidan al-Turki, the Saudi national serving time at the Limon Correctional Facility for unlawful sexual contact and assorted other crimes against an Indonesian nanny virtually enslaved by his family for nearly five years. If you were to see al-Turki’s photo in your local post office, you would immediately assume he was a terrorist suspect. He sports a well trimmed but expansive beard that nearly reaches his waist. Dressed in dark green prison garb, he surprises with a well-modulated and articulate command of English. In fact, he works in the pre-release program at Limon assisting other prisoners in navigating the paperwork required before those who are completing their sentences can return to civilian life.
Those eligible for parole do not appear before the entire parole board. Instead one or two members interview each eligible prisoner and then forward a recommendation to the full board, which is nearly always endorsed. Confusion reigned on Tuesday morning. Homaidan al-Turki would appear, by video circuit, from the prison in Limon, while Dr. Anthony Young, parole board chairman, was located at offices in Denver and the wretches from the press were confined to a room at the Corrections facility on Smith Road in Denver. Nearly twenty minutes was comprised of attempting to make the technology work. “I can see you, but I can’t hear you. Now I can hear you, but we’ve lost the picture.” Someone added the acerbic comment, “Since you aren’t going to give us a raise, can you get us some new equipment?” With the embarrassment of Evan Ebel’s early release, one attorney had predicted to me that it might be a year or more before anyone received another parole in Colorado.
Hal Haddon, one of al-Turki’s attorneys, and a representative from the Saudi Embassy in Washington appeared at the parole offices in Denver, but were told they should have traveled to Limon and were peremptorily ordered to leave the hearing. As things developed, it seems unlikely they would have been permitted to speak even if they had made the trip. Apparently victims can register “off the record” comments with the parole officer. Part of the delay in getting started was attributed to such a statement being offered, although it actually wasn’t clear whether this was true. The victim now resides in Jakarta, and Ann Tomsic, one of the original prosecuting attorneys, spoke first on her behalf. Needless to say, she has an axe to grind, protesting press reports that al-Turki has been a model prisoner when he has repeatedly refused to enroll in “sex offender treatment” and “…acknowledge what he did.”
Tomsic then advised Young that he could delay al-Turki’s return for another parole hearing for two or three years, or until he consents to participate in the state’s sex offender program. “Mr. al-Turki holds the keys to his own release,” she stated. Next to speak was his case manager, who emphasized that al-Turki has in fact been a compliant prisoner and excellent in his role as a para-professional clerk in the Limon pre-release program. When asked if there had been any unusual behavior displayed by al-Turki, he replied, “Other than what has happened the past few months — no, nothing.” In light of the rumors leaked to the press regarding his possible involvement in the assassination of Corrections Chief Tom Clements and his subsequent transfer to solitary confinement, this seemed comparable to the old line, “Other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?” Nonetheless, the issue was never mentioned again.
Then attention was turned to al-Turki, himself. Dr. Young, the Board chairman, was aggressive and adversarial right out of the box. “I know your case in detail,” he asserted. He made it abundantly clear that participation in the sex offender program was an expectation for al-Turki’s parole consideration. “You are the only person I will allow to speak today on your behalf,” he declared. This ruling silenced his attorney and several character witnesses who had made the trip to Limon. Homaidan al-Turki handled this onslaught with some aplomb stating that the Colorado sex offender program would require him to implicate himself for crimes that remained in dispute in other legal proceedings. He expressed an opinion that he would be required to participate in exercises that violated his religious beliefs. But, his most repeated response was that on the advice of his attorneys he should not discuss details of the charges against him pending legal appeals. This frustrated Dr. Young.
When al-Turki attempted to explain that the Saudi government was willing to transfer him to a jail in his own country, where he could undertake their more culturally sensitive treatment program, Young exploded. “What would you get out of treatment in Saudi Arabia that you won’t get here?” he demanded. “I need you to answer my question!” When al-Turki reverted to his standard assertion regarding advice from his attorneys, Young said, “I can see you are in a bind, but I expect you to take responsibility for your crimes. Our expectations are very clear.” Al-Turki’s concession that the crimes he had been charged with were inconsistent with the tenets of Islam came too late to sway Young’s decision. He inquired whether al-Turki could enter the Colorado sex offender program in a timely way, and was assured the Department of Corrections could find a seat for him. Young then said he would make a decision that day. Five minutes later he announced that al-Turki’s next parole hearing would be delayed for two years (well after next fall’s election).
Since no one else was allowed to speak, the question of what sex offender treatment in Colorado would achieve for this inmate, who is scheduled to be deported immediately upon his release, was never raised. The alleged purpose of the treatment regimen is to safeguard the Colorado citizenry against the threat of repeat offenders. That will become a Saudi problem. The Corrections Department’s mission statement displayed on the wall in our viewing room declares, “Building a safer Colorado for today and tomorrow.” It’s hard to figure how the vanity of a bull-headed prisoner and the arrogance of a bull-headed bureaucracy will make any of us safer. The only good news may be that the pre-release paperwork for inmates at Limon will continue to be handled expeditiously.