Suspension likely in probation foul-up over sex criminal

March 24, 1991|By Suzanne Wooton

A probation supervisor will likely be suspended as a result o a foul-up that resulted in a 29-year-old child sexual abuser's going totally unsupervised for months before his Feb. 19 arrest in the sodomy-murder of a 7-year-old East Baltimore boy, the probation division's director said yesterday.

An "exhaustive review" by the Division of Parole and Probation reveals that the supervisor failed to see that the case of Stephone Jonathan Williams was assigned to a probation agent under conditions for strictest supervision, according to Henry L. Templeton, director of the division.

"The managerial process failed," said Mr. Templeton. "He was in the wrong category. He shouldn't have been."

The Sun revealed last week that Williams, who had served time for sexually abusing two young girls, left prison in Hagerstown last June under strict conditions for probation. Four months later, the division lost all contact with him when the case inexplicably wound up in the lowest category of supervision.

From November until his Feb. 19 arrest, the division had no contact with Williams whatsoever. That day he was charged with the murder of Rodney James Champy Jr., a second-grader at Thomas G. Hayes Elementary School, whose mother discovered him strangled, stabbed and sexually assaulted at their sparsely furnished apartment in an East Baltimore housing project.

Probation workers were immediately questioned about Williams' supervision. The division's formal review began March 14, according to Mr. Templeton. The report was completed Friday and will not be made public because it was an internal investigation and deals with personnel matters, he said.

But he said the two agents involved in the case -- Deborah Richardson and Pamela Pennix -- acted properly. "There was no neglect on the agents' part," he said. "We hold supervisors responsible for seeing that agents get cases to supervise."

Mr. Templeton declined to name the supervisor. In a probation report filed with the court following Williams' arrest, however, the field supervisor was listed as Julian R. Greene. Mr. Greene could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Templeton said the division will impose "serious discipline," with suspension from one to 15 days likely.

According to new probation policy adopted last summer, broad categories of former inmates -- including sexual offenders like Williams -- were to be supervised intensely for at least six months.

Under the new policy, the number of people designated for intensive supervision doubled, Mr. Templeton said. The probation department got no new manpower to handle the increased supervision, he said, but simply devoted more resources to supervising people in that category and less attention to those in categories considered less risky.

In Williams' case, the mistake occurred when he was transferred from a parole agent to a probation agent in November. At that point, his case was dumped in a category normally designed for probationers who have been crime-free for two years after their release from prison.

"It is not unreasonable to have expected the supervisor to catch this. I don't believe in fall guys. We hold supervisors responsible for seeingthat agents get cases to supervise," Mr. Templeton said.

Under probation policy, a warrant for Williams' arrest should have been sought once he violated his probation.

Mr. Templeton said requiring intensive supervision for large numbers of so-called high-risk former inmates was a major departure from previous practice.

"Had we had another six months to fine-tune this very new system, I don't think it would have failed," he said.

"Given the proper time, there's no doubt in my mind the agent would have caught him [Williams].

"Whether that would have made a difference in his behavior," he said, "I doubt it."

Interviews with police and even probation workers indicate that similar foul-ups are not unusual in the probation system but fail to come to light except in severe cases. But Mr. Templeton said he believes the system, which deals with 84,000 active cases, functions well most of the time.

"From time to time, things occur that are unfortunate," he said. "But we make no excuse for this. The system failed."

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