No-nonsense officer shepherds lawbreakers

Grandfatherly image, tough-guy reputation

March 12, 2000|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

Joe Parks baby-sits criminals.

A 68-year-old parole and probation agent, Parks spends his days, and some nights, keeping track of the lawless in the Long Reach village HotSpot area -- a half-mile-long territory in Columbia deemed by the state to be in need of extra law enforcement attention.

"I don't make the laws or enforce them," Parks says with a smile. "Baby-sitting is the only authority I have."

Parks, a former Roman Catholic priest, has been a parole and probation agent for 22 years. Three years ago, he was assigned to the Long Reach HotSpot program created by the state to curb crime in targeted trouble spots. He works out of the Howard County police satellite office in the village center with Officer Lisa Myers, Assistant State's Attorney Sue Ellen Hantman and Shirley Owens, a caseworker from the state's Department of Juvenile Justice.

He knows the life stories of just about every criminal who lives in the HotSpot -- from the petty shoplifters to the armed robbers. Parks gives each of them personal attention. Once a month, he and Myers visit each of them at their homes.

"If they don't do what they are supposed to do, I [charge them for a violation]," he says ruefully. "It's as simple as that."

On a freezing January night, Parks gathers his papers -- brief profiles of those he is scheduled to visit -- and heads out.

His clients on this evening include a woman on probation for theft, a young man who has made a habit of smoking marijuana and is on probation for distribution, and a 45-year-old man who was convicted of soliciting prostitutes (who turned out to be undercover police officers).

Parks' first stop for the evening is the apartment where the 45-year-old lives with his mother. The man, who does not want his name used in the paper, is expecting him and lets Parks in.

"How are you doing?" Parks asks as he looks around the tidy apartment.

"Fine, I'm doing all right," the man replies.

Parks agrees that he is following the rules and fills out the necessary forms before leaving.

"See you next month," he tells the man.

When all goes well and a probationer is paying attention to what he or she needs to do, the visits last only a few minutes. But if Parks has found out that one of his clients has violated the terms of probation by, say, being arrested or testing positive for drugs, the visit can quickly turn ugly and end with a trip to jail.

Despite a soft heart and grandfatherly appearance, Parks has earned a tough-guy reputation among his colleagues and clients. Some of his probationers are surprised to find that Parks rarely misses a trick.

"He will [charge you with a violation] in a heartbeat," one of Parks' probationers says after a visit. "I can't believe how tough he is. He won't cut me any slack at all."

Hantman agrees that Parks' mild manner can be deceptive.

"I don't think [probationers] believe him right away," she says. "They don't think he will go after them."

But he will -- and relish every minute of it.

Take the case of Barry Anthony Faucette.

Faucette, 21, was arrested in September after detectives said they caught him and a companion with crack cocaine on a path off Tamar Drive. Prosecutors determined that the officers did not follow proper procedures for the stop and search, and they dropped the criminal charges.

Gotcha

But being in possession of the drugs was a violation of his probation, the state's attorney's office said, and in November, Faucette tested positive for marijuana use, court records show.

Gotcha, Parks said he thought to himself.

On Valentine's Day, Parks sits in Courtroom 1 of the Howard County Courthouse where Judge Diane O. Leasure is presiding. They watch the familiar cast of characters parade in front of the judge while their girlfriends with big hair, fluorescent makeup and short, tight skirts wait in the audience.

Faucette looks like a teen-ager. He has the stature, small face and bones of a high school student. He waits with his girlfriend, parents and toddler daughter.

Finally, Faucette's case is called, and Parks goes to the front of the courtroom with Hantman, who explains the circumstances of Faucette's arrest and parole violation.

"It would be the state's position," Hantman tells the judge, "that we impose the original sentence, suspend all but five weekends in jail and order him into drug evaluation, counseling and treatment."

Although Faucette denies that he was in possession of any drugs, Hantman tells the judge, it is a matter of whom to believe -- Faucette or the police officer.

Faucette's lawyer, William Tucker, tells the judge that al- though his client has acknowledged being an occasional user of marijuana, he was not in possession of drugs and his fingerprints were not found on the bag that contained the crack cocaine.

"You have his attention," Tucker says of his client. "And he takes the matter seriously."

Leasure, despite Hantman's plea for jail time, orders Faucette into a drug addiction program but no weekends in the county detention center.

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