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House, Senate plan hearings on problems at Division of Parole and Probation

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House, Senate plan hearings on problems at Division of Parole and Probation

Jun 11, 2024 | 9:07 pm ET
By Bryan P. Sears
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House, Senate plan hearings on problems at Division of Parole and Probation
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Members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees rally Tuesday at a Division of Parole and Probation office in Catonsville. The union issued nearly a dozen demands for improved safety and staffing following the May 31 death of Parole Agent Davis Martinez, the first agency employee to die in the line of duty. Photo by Bryan P. Sears.

Four House and Senate committees are planning joint hearings into the death of a parole and probation agent in Montgomery County last month, the first agent killed in the line of duty.

Leaders in both chambers said members of the House Appropriations and Judiciary committees will join with Senate Budget and Taxation and Judicial Proceedings to review issues related to the May 31 death of Agent Davis Martinez, including budget and staffing, and policies governing supervision of offenders on release.

It comes as leaders of the union that represents correctional and parole and probation officers expressed a lack of confidence in Public Safety and Correctional Services Secretary Carolyn J. Scruggs and issued a list of demands they said will improve safety.

House Judiciary Committee Chair Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City) said it’s “important for us to understand” what’s happening at the agency.

“We need to ensure that people working at parole and probation are safe when they’re doing their jobs,” Clippinger said. “We need to understand better what didn’t work here … and get a better understanding of how these problems have been ongoing for some time and how they’ve been raised to many different administrations, and we haven’t been able to solve these issues.”

Clippinger said he expected his committee and its Senate counterpart, the Judicial Proceedings Committee, to focus on policies related to people released into the supervision of Parole and Probation. The two budget committees will likely focus on issues like staffing levels, hiring and vacancy rates. The hearings could result in legislative action in the 2025 session.

House, Senate plan hearings on problems at Division of Parole and Probation
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 3 President Patrick Moran. Photo by Bryan P. Sears.

“A lot of this sort of overlaps, so we’ll have to work together on it,” said House Appropriations Chair Ben Barnes (D-Anne Arundel and Prince George’s).

Union officials said last week they had no faith in vacancy rates provided by Public Safety. Barnes said the legislature does not have an “independent ability” to collect that sort of data and that he has no reason “to believe that numbers being reported by agencies would not be correct or accurate.” But he also said he is not dismissing workers’ concerns.

“Listen, if people representing the employees believe that these numbers aren’t accurate, I think that is part of the charge when we’re looking into the stuff globally is to find out what is accurate,” said Barnes.

“Are they accurate numbers? What are the staffing levels? And then, what are the policies in place in terms of best practices for safety and to make sure that these personnel are safe?” he said. “We do know, it’s not a big surprise, that correctional services have been understaffed for some time.”

A spokesperson for Senate President Bill Ferguson confirmed the two committees will participate. A joint announcement from Ferguson and House Speaker Adrienne Jones is expected later this summer.

It is expected that the joint panel will be limited in size and include senior lawmakers from the four committees.

Martinez, a six-year veteran of the agency, was found dead after visiting the home of Emanuel Edward Sewell, 54, a sex offender who was released from prison in 2021. Martinez’s body was found inside Sewell’s residence by Montgomery County Police who were sent to the Chevy Chase address after the agent failed to check in at work.

Police said Martinez died as the result of multiple injuries, including blunt-force trauma.

Sewell was arrested in West Virginia and extradited to Maryland. He is being held without bail on a charge of first-degree murder following a Monday hearing in Rockville.

Since Martinez’s death, the state has temporarily suspended in-home visits by agents. An internal investigation is ongoing.

Last week, leaders of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees state council and the local chapter representing parole and probation officers demanded the firing of three top officials. Included on the list were Scruggs, Division of Parole and Probation Director Martha Danner and Deputy Director Walter E. Nolley.

Danner and Nolley have since been replaced, according to a departmental memo from Scruggs.

“The Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services is dedicated to ensuring the safety and security of its staff and the community and is committed to working closely with the union to bring about meaningful change,” according to a statement issued by the department. “In the wake of the recent death of Division of Parole and Probation (DPP) Agent Davis Martinez, the Department has taken immediate and decisive action to reassess and enhance our current policies and practices.”

The shakeup has done little to assuage the anger of union leaders and rank and file members who rallied Tuesday outside a Parole and Probation field office in Catonsville.

I will deal with the governor's office. We're going to deal with people that want to get stuff done.

– Patrick Moran, president of American Federation of State, County and Muncipal Employees Council 3

“We are sad. We are angry and we are frustrated,” said Rayneika Robinson, president of AFSCME Local 3661, which represents parole and probation agents. “It’s clear we have a problem to fix regarding health and safety and well-being of our agents, monitors and office professionals. This tragedy could have been prevented had the agency listened to our many attempts to discuss health and safety in caseloads.”

Robinson said union leaders took their concerns to department leaders in meetings dating back to September.

“We tried to discuss our concerns, and time and time again, our concerns were ignored. And on May 31, just over a week ago, our cries and concerns became our reality,” said Robinson. “As we continue to process the loss of agent Martinez, we remember his legacy and everything he stood for. It should not have taken this tragedy for our concerns to finally be heard.”

Union leaders issued an 11-point list of demands that includes independent reviews of internal safety policies and procedures as well as problems that led to Martinez’s death. The union also demanded better protective equipment, more agents and suspension of all in-home visits until a new policy is negotiated with the union.

House, Senate plan hearings on problems at Division of Parole and Probation
AFSCME Local 3661 President Rayneika Robinson (center) said Parole Agent Davis Martinez’s death was preventable but that Division of Parole and Probation leaders ignored union concerns. Photo by Bryan P. Sears.

“When your staff raises an issue with you or has a concern around health and safety, you must address them, you must listen, you must work out a solution and take next steps for everyone safety before it is too late,” said Patrick Moran, president of AFSCME Council 3.

“The governor and his team have committed to meeting with us to change policies and procedures, and to address health and safety issues that actually members have been raising over the last year time and time,” Moran said. “Again, the governor’s office is now directly engaged to ensure there is follow through accountability and action.”

Moran last week called for Gov. Wes Moore (D) to fire Scruggs. On Tuesday, he said the final decision was Moore’s to make but added that he had not softened his position. Moran said he is no longer dealing directly with Scruggs or the agency.

“I will deal with the governor’s office. We’re going to deal with people that want to get stuff done,” Moran said. “I’m going to the boss and I’m going to the governor’s office, these people, everyone ultimately works for the governor so that’s who we’re dealing with. And the governor has made some decisions that we think are good steps forward, and we are embracing those decisions. But you know, we have a long way to go.”