Judge's warning about suspect was ignored

June 20, 1991|By M. Dion Thompson and Ginger Thompson

It was nearly 18 months ago that Arnold Bates, the man charged with fatally stabbing a Baltimore social services worker Tuesday, stood before Judge John Carroll Byrnes to await sentencing for assault and theft.

Even then, Judge Byrnes, who ordered Bates to serve 15 months of a six-year sentence, warned that Bates might pose a threat to society.

In Baltimore Circuit Court documents filed Jan. 25, 1990, the day of the sentencing, Judge Byrnes wrote: "The defendant has a mental illness that if not monitored could present a public danger. . . . If this defendant takes his medication there is little problem, but he threatens not to. He virtually announced his intention to violate his probation."

had been Judge Byrnes' hope that if Bates, 34, violated his parole or probation he would be brought before him again and sentenced to serve the remainder of the six-year sentence. That did not happen.

Bates was paroled in May 1990. But the judge was not notified when he violated his parole after a September 1990 arrest and conviction for theft and malicious destruction.

According to Susan G. Kaskie, spokeswoman for the Department of Parole and Probation, it is not department procedure to notify judges of the parole violations of defendants they have sentenced. Instead, the cases are handled by the Parole Commission. In Bates' case, the commission ordered him back to prison to serve the remainder of Judge Byrnes' 15-month sentence. But their ruling did not apply to the suspended four years and nine months of the six-year sentence Judge Byrnes gavehim.

This January, after his release from prison, Bates began his probation. In March, he was arrested again for theft and malicious destruction. The case, which was later put on the inactive docket, did not result in a violation of probation.

"An arrest alone is not necessarily grounds for a revocation to say he has violated the terms of his parole or probation," said Ms. Kaskie. "Just because someone is arrested is not necessarily a violation."

She also said the department sent Judge Byrnes a notification of Bates' arrest.

Yesterday, Judge Byrnes' secretary found the notification in a stack of papers waiting to be filed.

Part of the confusion about Bates' record could have been the two names under which Bates is known by the criminal justice system.

The Baltimore police list him as Johnson A. Thomas, also known as Arnold Bates. Parole and probation lists him as Arnold Bates, also known as Johnson A. Thomas. In Baltimore Circuit Court, he is listed as Arnold Bates.

Judge Byrnes said that had he seen the notification, he would have had Bates brought back to court for another hearing. But that hearing would not necessarily have resulted in more jail time for Bates.

After the case from the March arrest was dismissed, Bates went to his probation agent on May 6 and claimed he had been abiding by the orders of his probation, which included making restitution payments, undergoing drug testing, mental health treatment and taking whatever medication was deemed necessary. The agent asked Bates for proof of his compliance, but Bates had nothing.

He was told to bring the papers to a subsequent meeting on May 13. Again he did not provide the documentation and was told to bring it on May 15. Yet again, he failed to comply with his agent's orders.

When Bates didn't show up for a June 5 meeting, the probation agent called Bates' mother's home and scheduled another meeting for June 24. According to Ms. Kaskie, none of Bates' actions during this period constituted a violation of probation.

Yesterday, Bates was ordered held without bail for the first-degree murder of 29-year-old Tanja Brown-O'Neal, whom he allegedly stabbed several times Tuesday morning, after arguing about the status of his application for food stamps.

Mrs. O'Neal, a two-year employee of the city's Department of Social Services, worked at the Rosemont social services center where yesterday blank stares marked the faces of the co-workers she used to meet every morning before work to smoke a cigarette, laugh and share stories about her family.

"She had only worked at the center since November, but people felt like they had known her their whole lives," said David L. Tabler, the chief supervisor of the Rosemont center. "I would see her in the halls and she was always smiling. She always made you feel at ease."

Mr. Tabler said that he and other employees at the Rosemont center were counseled by professional psychologists to help them deal with their despair and fears. He said that some of the center's 69 employees talked about times they had spent with Mrs. Brown-O'Neal, how much she loved her 4-year-old son and husband, and how they couldn't believe she was dead.

"Some people were saying that it could have been them," Mr. Tabler said. "We deal with an unknown population and this brings to the forefront the potential danger of our work."

At the Rosemont center, Mrs. Brown-O'Neal's job was to review initial applications for assistance. Mr. Tabler said there were many times that Mrs. Brown-O'Neal had to console troubled clients.

"She would see upset people, but she never got down," he said. "Shewould pat them gently on the hand and tell them to think about things in a different way and that things would work out."

Most of the Rosemont staff left for home after the counseling session, which lasted until about 2 p.m. Their remaining work was done by staff members from other centers.

Some of those who remained sat blank-faced in front of their computer terminals.

"It's just real depressing around here," said one caseworker who has been employed at the center for 19 years.

"No one wants to believe this really happened. She was so nice. People aren't really talking today. They don't know what to say. I guess we're all in shock."

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