Missouri Parole Board member Donald Ruzicka submitted his resignation Monday after a scandal developed over his alleged behavior during hearings of prisoners. Board of Probation and Parole Chairman Kenny Jones announced the resignation in a statement.
“The parole board plays an important role in the public safety of Missouri communities by having the authority to grant parole or conditional release to offenders incarcerated in Missouri prisons,” said Jones.
“Members of the board must be held to a higher standard in order to do the work that is requested of them to ensure that all parties involved are equally heard during the hearing process before a final decision is made.”
Earlier Monday, state Representative Gail McCann-Beatty sent a letter to Greitens, calling for Ruzicka and an unnamed “parole analyst” to be terminated.
Late Friday, state Senator Jamilah Nasheed released a letter to Governor Eric Greitens calling for the removal of Ruzicka.
She referenced a report of Ruzicka, who along with the unnamed employee, allegedly engaged in a game where they tried to get inmates to say certain words or song titles, and would keep score of results.
Monday, Nasheed, D-St. Louis, said she still didn’t know who the unnamed employee is, but had been in contact with the governor.
“I still don’t know who that is, but I know I spoke with the governor’s office this morning” said Nasheed. “The governor said that they were investigating it, and that they would get back me and let me know their further actions.”
It’s not known if Greitens forced Ruzicka out. Nasheed found Ruzicka and the unnamed employee’s behavior deplorable. “To go to the parole board to have to be insulted and humiliated like that is something that is unacceptable and it’s very unprofessional. And that’s why I am calling on the governor to call for Ruzicka’s resignation. This is something that we should not tolerate within the Department of Corrections.”
In her letter to Greitens, Nasheed described how Ruzicka and the unnamed employee played a game during the board hearing where prisoners testified in favor of their release.
She said the two “tried to work in to their interviews predetermined words and song titles — a few of their selections: “Hound Dog,” “hootenanny” and “armadillo.” A point was awarded each time one of them used the word. If they somehow got the offender to repeat the word, two points. These men repeatedly engaged in contests to see who could get the most points.”
The Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center, a St. Louis human rights law firm, obtained the report and released it last Thursday at a news conference. The report by a Department of Corrections inspector general was completed in November of 2016.
Most Probation and Parole Board records are closed under Missouri state law. It’s possible the report was leaked to the law firm.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Friday that two top Department of Corrections officials stood behind the Board of Probation and Parole. The newspaper quoted Parole Board Chairman Kenneth C. Jones as saying. “There is no joking around. It’s a very serious job.”
The Post-Dispatch also quoted Department of Corrections Director Anne Precythe. “We have a very good parole board that is very conscientious about the decisions they make when it comes to the hearings they hold,” Precythe said. “You can’t let one person represent all.”
Nasheed found Precythe’s response unacceptable. “If the director thinks this is acceptable, then we need to take a second look at the director in terms of who’s leading the Department of Corrections.”
The report was compiled before Precythe was announced as the department director in December by then Governor-elect Greitens. Nasheed said Governor Greitens told her over the weekend he agreed that prisoners had been mistreated by Ruzicka and the unnamed employee.
Greitens released a statement following Ruzicka’s resignation, in which he praised the management of Precythe and Jones.
“The reports of Mr. Ruzicka’s actions were disturbing. Playing games at parole board hearings is unacceptable behavior. I’m grateful to Board Chairman Kenny Jones and Director Anne Precythe for their leadership. Our criminal justice system must keep people safe and protect the dignity of all Missourians.”
Ruzicka, a former Republican State Representative from Mt. Vernon, was appointed to the board in 2012 by former Democratic Governor Jay Nixon. He made $85,000 in his position. Board members serve six-year terms.