Missouri officials toyed with inmates during parole hearings

AP News
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Posted: Jun 09, 2017 12:59 PM

ST. LOUIS (AP) — A Missouri parole board member and employee played a game during parole hearings in which they earned points for incorporating song titles and unusual words such as "manatee" and "hootenanny" into their questioning, according to a Department of Corrections report.

The inspector general's report said the officials, who occasionally dressed alike, awarded themselves an extra point if they could get the inmates to say the words too. The report was completed in November and released Thursday after a law firm, the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center at St. Louis obtained the findings.

The law firm has urged for Gov. Eric Greitens to reform the board and remove member Don Ruzicka, who acknowledged coming up with the game. He and an unnamed parole analyst are accused in the report of laughing aloud while trying to incorporate the words and titles of songs that included Elvis' "Hound Dog," Johnny Cash' "Folsom Prison Blues" and Hank Williams Jr.' "All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight."

The heavily redacted report says another parole board member reported their concerns in July 2016.

Greitens' spokesman Parker Briden declined immediate comment. David Owen, a corrections department spokesman, said in an email that the agency had no comment.

In one hearing, the analyst told a sex offender, "Your grandma would probably be like, he ain't nothin' but a hound dog, you know it." The analyst also warned the offender that if he kept up his behavior, he might be placed in the sexually violent predator unit and might as well learn "Folsom Prison Blues."

"It is shameful and outrageous that after an internal investigation, reports to the highest level of the Parole Board, and undisputed findings that Ruzicka literally played games with legal hearings he was supposed to be supervising - that this man is still allowed to decide upon the course of people's lives," said Mae Quinn, the director of the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center at St. Louis, in a news release that also demanded the creation of an oversight group and an audit to "discern the depths of the problems."

Ruzicka, a former conservation agent and Republican state representative from Mount Vernon who began his term on the parole board in December 2012, doesn't have a listed number. According to the report, he told an investigator that the parole hearings were "thorough and complete" despite the game, which he said "wasn't a lengthy continuous thing."

"It happened and it was over. ... Maybe that little check in here (he was pointing to his chest) was to move on. We didn't discuss ending it, it just kinda ended," Ruzicka told the investigator.

The parole analyst who participated in the game said he and Ruzicka thought the game would "lighten the mood and change it up." The analyst said they "quit doing it because it was not good practice and it was unprofessional."