Hagerstown Rescue Mission has on occasion accepted people convicted of violent crimes in other jurisdictions, a move that has prompted local officials to question and criticize the practice.
Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith said last week that the Hagerstown Rescue Mission at 125 N. Prospect St. most recently accepted a Worcester County, Md., man who was on parole following convictions for sexual offenses.
“This is not the kind of guy you want loose in your community,” said Smith, who discussed the matter shortly before he was to retire.
Smith said Washington County Community Supervision, formerly known as Parole and Probation, told him that man arrived at the shelter Aug. 1. The Hagerstown Police Department picked him up and drove him back to Worcester County the next day.
In November 2011, the man, described in a newspaper account of the court proceedings as having mental problems, entered Alford pleas in Worcester Circuit Court to a charge of abuse of a vulnerable adult resulting in physical injury and to a second-degree sex offense, court records said. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison with all but 18 months suspended, and to five years of probation, court records said.
The other 10 charges were dismissed.
Under an Alford plea, a defendant does not admit guilt, but agrees the state has sufficient evidence to gain a conviction.
Smith said that man wasn’t the only violent criminal to wind up at the mission without the police department’s knowledge.
He said Darrell Hicks, recently convicted in Washington County Circuit Court of killing his Hagerstown roommate, came to the Rescue Mission several years ago on a court order from Anne Arundel County, Md.
After sentencing Hicks in 2009 to five years in prison, a judge in Anne Arundel County ordered that Hicks’ daughter drive him to the shelter in Hagerstown to begin a drug and alcohol treatment program, Washington County Assistant State’s Attorney Brett Wilson said. Anne Arundel County Circuit Court records said Hicks was to attend and successfully complete an in-patient program at the Hope Center at the mission.
The goal of the Rescue Mission’s Hope Center “is to stop the cycle of hopelessness and bring a change in lives that will not only improve the quality of life on earth but in eternity as well, according to information on its website at http://hagerstownrescue.org.
The Hope Center, at the Rescue Mission since 1995, strives to “‘reach the least, the last and the lost’ with the purpose of giving hope to both their physical and spiritual needs,” the website says.
After arriving at the Rescue Mission, Hicks settled in Hagerstown.
In July, he was sentenced to 33 years in prison for the 2011 fatal stabbing of his roommate at their West Franklin Street apartment. Police said Hicks hid the body in a closet until it was found several days later.
Bruce “Sonny” Shank, director of the Hagerstown Rescue Mission, said the facility has accepted people with criminal records, but said mission personnel screen those who enter long-term counseling programs that the organization helps to provide.
“We have accepted criminals. We do review their cases ... If we know they have issues, we turn them away,” he said last week.
“We do have a 13-month program dealing with drug and alcohol issues ... but it’s really about life issues,” Shank said Friday. “Our goal is to change people’s hearts. The center of the problem is the heart.”
Shank said the mission serves primarily as an all-male shelter and takes in 500 people each year. Visitors are permitted to enter the shelter from 5:30 to 7 p.m. After they check in, he said, visitors have to take a shower and attend church services before they receive a meal. Shank said visitors have to leave by 8:30 a.m. the following day.
He said he understands the police department’s concern.
“We work here and we want to be safe, too,” Shank said. “We want to help people, but we don’t want to put ourselves in danger, either ... We don’t want to put anyone in harm’s way, but we do want to treat people. We’re here to tell people about the Lord Jesus Christ ... God can help anybody.”