Let me start with this supposition: No one outside the immediate family circle would weep over what happens to a paroled ex-con.
So, don’t worry, I’m not going to cue the violins over Daniel Couturie’s plight with the state parole office in northern Orange County. He’s a 30-year-old Yorba Linda man who had served a three-year sentence for a bar fight and then went back for nine months on a parole violation for punching a bouncer in a subsequent incident. With all due respect, the man has had issues -- as his family more than willingly concedes.
But if we don’t care about Couturie -- and I would argue that we should care very much about him because he is back in society -- can’t we at least care about how the state carries on its tax-supported business?
If what happened earlier this week at Couturie’s scheduled parole revocation hearing is any indication, it’s fair to say that not even the state cares about him.
A quick timeline: Last September, Couturie finished a nine-month stretch for the parole violation. Upon his release, he found work with a construction company as an apprentice ironworker. His mother says he has worked steadily since.
Until mid-July, that is. Then, he was in a car with his 16-month-old daughter and the child’s mother, on their way to the Orange County Fair when she and Couturie began arguing. To make a long story short, they returned to Yorba Linda and continued squabbling in a parking lot. A neighbor alerted police, and Couturie was taken into custody after the woman alleged he had struck and kicked her during the fracas.
Couturie was arrested but denied the allegations. Within days, the Orange County district attorney’s office decided not to file charges. However, because he was on parole, Couturie remained in jail pending a hearing on whether to revoke his parole again. Early on, he was offered a sweetened 10-month sentence instead of the typical 12 months, but Couturie rejected it, saying he hadn’t done anything.
In the normal he said/she said case like that, you hope for solid evidence. In this case, there wasn’t any, as demonstrated by the D.A.'s unwillingness to file charges.
That doesn’t tell me Couturie didn’t do anything; it just means a case couldn’t be proved. But, the bottom line is that he wasn’t charged.
But with parolees, that doesn’t always matter. They’re on a very tight leash -- for reasons we can all understand -- but it still seems to me they should get a chance to prove they didn’t do the deed that threatens to send them back to prison for up to a year.
And they do.
In Couturie’s case, that took six weeks. That is the standard wait, says his attorney Brent Romney, a former prosecutor in the Orange County D.A.'s office.
That seems like a long time for a situation in which no charges were filed and in which, at least on paper, the possibility existed of a false allegation, but that’s how it goes.
OK, so be it.
But that brings us to Tuesday and Couturie’s revocation hearing in Chino, where he’s been incarcerated after Orange County released him. Romney had a handful of witnesses ready to go. He says Couturie’s parole officer indicated that the young woman and two cops would be there too.
Forty-five minutes after the hearing was set to begin, Romney says, the parole officer still hadn’t shown up. Neither had the cops nor the young woman. The hearing officer phoned the parole agent’s office to find out where he was. He was told the parole agent was on vacation. The man’s supervisor, Romney says, told the hearing officer that she thought he’d designated someone to take his place but didn’t know who that person was.
If there was such a designated hitter, he or she didn’t show up either.
With no one from parole to make the case against Couturie, the hearing was canceled and Couturie was to be released Wednesday evening after another 24 hours of paperwork.
Romney, the former prosecutor, is peeved. He agrees with my assessment that parolees don’t garner much public sympathy, but says there are other issues.
“The parole system and revocation hearing, that entire system, is ripe for abuse because of a lack of accountability,” he says. Until recent years, he says, it was difficult for a parolee even to get timely legal representation when facing a parole-violation charge.
Revocation hearings are run by people who aren’t required to have legal experience, Romney explains, and even if they’re earnest in their duties, they serve at the pleasure of the prison system.
In Couturie’s case, Romney says, the D.A.'s refusal to file charges should have been a “yellow flag” to the parole officer to investigate the case before committing Couturie to a protracted jail and prison stay.
Romney says he understands that the D.A.'s decision didn’t mean that Couturie was automatically blameless. Fine, so have the hearing.
That requires, however, that the agent actually shows up for the hearing. And have his witnesses show up.
“It’s almost as if [the parole officer] decided the case was full of all sorts of problems,” Romney says, “and his way to handle it was to just give it short shrift.”
To make matters worse, as Romney was leaving the grounds, he saw the young woman in a guard’s station. Apparently, she’d honored the subpoena from the parole officer but then didn’t know where to go, Romney says.
I left a message Wednesday for the parole officer’s supervisor but didn’t hear back from her.
Other than “oops,” it’s hard to imagine how she could explain no one appearing from the parole office or a witness left waiting in a guard station.
Couturie’s mother, Donna, says she’s glad her son is out but that he’s missed six weeks of work.
As for Tuesday’s hearing? “It was a crapshoot and we thought they’d throw him back in,” she says, “so I burst into tears [when the hearing was canceled], I was so happy.”
And, yes, she knows few if any outsiders care about her son. “Until you get involved in the justice system, you have no idea how it works,” she says, “so therefore you think it works fine.”
A parting note: Romney says the AWOL parole officer still can refile the case and set it for another hearing.
Dana Parsons’ column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. He can be reached at (714) 966-7821 or at dana
.firstname.lastname@example.org. An archive of his recent columns is at www.latimes.com/parsons.