In wake of Washington state killings, law enforcers decry parole system

TUPELO – Area law enforcers have their eyes on local parole and probation systems after a parolee gunned down four Washington police officers on Sunday.
Police shot and killed suspected cop-killer Maurice Clemmons three days after he allegedly killed the four officers at a Lakewood, Wash., coffee shop.
Clemmons was a three-time convicted felon and parolee. After being convicted of multiple violent offenses, Lee County Sheriff Johnson said, Clemmons should have not had the opportunity to kill the officers.
“This is just sickening,” said Johnson. “Those four officers were killed protecting a system that failed to protect them. A system that they couldn’t control because it lets violent offenders out of their sentences early. Now who benefited from this man being released from prison early? Certainly not those four police officers and their families.”
Johnson said about 80 percent of the people he arrests are repeat offenders and parolees. There are more than 50 inmates out of 213 in the Lee County jail for probation violation, more than any other crime.
“Parole is the only system out there that works the way it does,” Johnson said. “You can’t get a 10-year bank loan and then after three years they tell you that you don’t have to pay the rest. That’s what early parole does. It lets people off the hook from having to serve the full time for their crimes.”
Tupelo Police Detective Bart Aguirre said he also deals with a lot of parolees. Aguirre said he thinks parole should be a “one and done” process – if a person is convicted of a crime he has one chance to make parole.
If that person commits another crime, Aguirre said that person should serve the full sentence.
Johnson agreed, saying there should be no such thing as a two-time parolee.
Oxford Police Chief Mike Martin said he believes a person should serve every day of his sentence no matter what.
“If a jury convicts and a judge set the sentence then that’s what should be carried out,” said Martin. “We deal with repeat offenders a lot more than we should have to and if people served their full terms then I don’t think that would be the case.”
Johnny Young, district attorney for the 1st Circuit Court District, has spent most of his career prosecuting criminals. Over that time he has seen many people he’s helped to convict back on the streets because of the parole system. Young said he believes if a person has proved to be dangerous to others in society, he should be made to serve the full sentence.
Circuit Court Judge James Roberts feels the parole system is not as cut and dried as some people want to make it.
“There are instances where people get out on parole and they commit other crimes,” said Roberts. “But there are people who get parole and never commit another crime. So it’s hard to say that no one should ever be paroled. In Mississippi we do the best job we can with the system we have to work with.”
Martin, Johnson and Aguirre said they understand that the parolee system is used primarily to ease overcrowding in jails, but that doesn’t make what happened to the four officers in Lakewood any easier to accept.
“We have to start keeping these people in jail,” said Johnson. “We have to sentence them and make sure they are completing their sentences. They make the choice whether to be law-abiding citizens or criminals. Once they decide to be a criminal they should be made to deal with the full extent of their punishment.”
A message left by the Daily Journal for Mississippi Parole Board chairwoman Shannon Warnock was not immediately returned.

Contact Danza Johnson at (662) 678-1583 or danza.johnson@djournal.com.

Danza Johnson/NEMS Daily Journal