What’s the price of saving money?

I am not allowed to hunt down the person who steals my car or my TV and extract personal vengeance. The law does not permit it. To help me feel safe — maybe in order to actually help me be safe — the government says it will hunt them and deal with them in my stead.

But what happens when budget cuts hinder their ability to do so?

Two cases in point are offered for your consideration: Charles Samuel and Jose Reyes.

The Reyes’ slayings
Jose Reyes is a young man — only 19 years hang on his shoulders. He was kicked out of the Fresno County Jail a couple of days before the July 22, 2009 murder of Gary and Sandra DeBartolo.

The DeBartolos were well-respected residents of the small town of Kerman located near Fresno, California. They were also pot farmers with a 50-plant grow operation in their house. Their residence was actually under police surveillance when Reyes and two friends murdered them.

Charles Samuel, 50, appears in Los Angeles Superior Court in downtown Los Angeles on Tuesday, July 28, 2009. Samuel has been charged with capital murder in the killing of 17-year-old girl whose body was found in a downtown Los Angeles parking lot. (AP photo)

Charles Samuel, 50, appears in Los Angeles Superior Court in downtown Los Angeles on Tuesday, July 28, 2009. Samuel has been charged with capital murder in the killing of 17-year-old girl whose body was found in a downtown Los Angeles parking lot. (AP photo)

Two accomplices crashed their car fleeing the scene and they were taken into custody almost immediately after the murder. Reyes beat feet successfully but turned himself in a few days later.

The interesting point here is that Reyes was, by most definitions, a low level, non-violent offender. That is, at least prior to this offense. (There is some reason to believe that Jose Reyes might not be the DeBartolos’ actual killer, though under the California felony murder rule, he is just as guilty even if he did not cut their throats himself.)

The Samuel story
Charles Samuel is a 50-year old career criminal with only one serious case of violence on his record (depending on how deep you look). He is basically a doper and thief. His story is sickening.

His most recent offense is PC 666 — petty theft with a prior — which is a felony in California.

Then on Friday, July 24, 2009, Samuel murdered Lily Burk, age 17, in Los Angeles.

There is no real question of Samuel’s guilt. He was arrested on an unrelated charge — drinking in public — a short distance from where Lily Burk’s body was later found in her parked car. He had her car keys and cell phone on him, along with a beer he was working on and a drug pipe. He also had a fair amount of blood spatter on him. I doubt it has been matched yet, but it almost certainly got on him when he beat Lily Burk’s head in and then cut her throat.

Burk had been unable to successfully use her credit card as an ATM card to get Samuel the money he wanted, presumably for more alcohol and dope. This inability cost her dearly.

Unfortunately for Samuel (not that I really care about his lack of good fortune) the late Lily Burk’s mother is a lawyer and her dad writes for a couple of L.A. area newspapers. They are not going to let this go, nor should they.

Prior to this arrest, Samuel was being supervised at a minimum level, at a so-called In Custody Drug Treatment Program facility operated by a private contractor under the (alleged) supervision of Parole Division peace officers.

This is where the story starts getting murky.

The state had determined that there was inadequate procedure to deal with keeping an eye on the guys in these facilities. On June 11, several weeks before Lily Burk’s murder, a 30-page procedure and policy update was sent out (or maybe wasn’t) to the troops. In the L.A. area many of these updates were hand delivered by a parole supervisor.

One of the things this new policy specified was that if a parolee is to receive a day-pass, the pass must have been submitted to the Parole Agent II at least three days prior to the date it was requested for. The Parole Agent II must then verify it, check with the AOR (Agent of Record) and other interested parties, and sign it off at least three days prior to the requested day of freedom.

When the murder happened, Samuel was on a day pass to a DMV office that was in fact not open that day. None of them were — it was a “Furlough Friday” in California for state offices.

One assumes the PA II would have known this and NOT approved the pass. Right now, however, no one is talking about who actually signed the pass. Presumably, it was one of the contractor’s employees.

In any event, minimum-supervision-good-guy-parolee Charlie Samuel left the facility in the company of another, “more reliable” parolee. They found the DMV office to be closed and hung out a while. Then the — as yet unnamed — more “reliable” parolee went back to the barn, stating that Charlie refused to return.

While all this was happening, Charlie was kidnapping, robbing, and murdering Lily Burk and sucking up some suds. He was spotted by a couple of mounted cops who jacked him up for drinking in public. He copped to being on parole and they took him in. When he was searched they found the cell phone and car keys belonging to the girl who was not yet known to be dead.

The cops called the people they were supposed to call and could not get anyone to agree to place a parole hold on Charlie. This was important, as drinking in public is a minor offense and Samuel could quite conceivably have made bail or been released and then beat feet.

The cops fortunately knew a parole agent who appreciated that this thing stunk to high heaven — the PA got the hold placed through the back door. In the meantime, Lily’s car was found, with her body inside. Fingerprints and other forensic evidence linked to Charlie, who is now in deep ____.

There was clearly a serious screw-up somewhere with Charlie Samuel.

At a minimum, a procedure and policy update went out weeks and weeks later than it should, and that failure cost a young woman her life. A more critical or unkind way of looking at it would suggest that the policy and procedure update DID go out, was ignored by the contract staff AND the Parole Agent II AND the Parole Agent III responsible for that particular facility, with the same outcome.

Currently, there is either a serious inquiry or a massive cover-up under way, depending on whom you believe.

Saving money at the cost of lives
The points of this missive are simple:

A) Dangerous behavior can not be reasonably predicted.

B) You need places to put people if they won’t behave. If you don’t have those places, they will stay out on the street and, in all probability, continue to misbehave.

Charlie Samuel had no recent history of violence, and his commitment offense was petty theft. He was a minimum-supervision parolee. Jose Reyes was such a lightweight he got kicked out of jail for lack of space.

Now there are three dead people.

In Jose Reyes’ case, a court order was being followed. A low level misdemeanant became a multiple murderer. In Charlie Samuel’s case an old druggie brutally murdered a young woman, possibly because she didn’t have enough money on her.

I am absolutely NOT saying lock everybody up forever. That’s clearly not only unworkable, but stupid in the bargain. I am saying that custody decisions should NOT be made PRIMARILY for money considerations as is being done right now.

Jose Reyes was kicked out for lack of a bed. Charlie Samuel was low-balled on his custody level because the Governor wants fewer prisoners in prison and fewer parolees on parole and apparently does not care what he has to do to get there.

Public safety is the primary responsibility of government. This costs money, which the government obtains in the form of taxes. Maintaining adequate jail cell space and staff costs money. Maintaining adequate prison space and staff costs money. Maintaining meaningful parole supervision costs money.

California residents need to make a decision — with luck it will be an informed decision — about how much they are willing to pay now collectively as opposed to how much they are willing to pay later, individually, as potential crime victims.

I hope we choose well.

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