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Patrick overhauls parole

5 on board depart as report faults freeing of criminal

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By Jonathan Saltzman
Globe Staff / January 14, 2011

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Governor Deval Patrick announced a sweeping overhaul of the Parole Board yesterday, including the mass resignation of five board members, as he released a devastating review detailing the agency’s missteps in releasing a career criminal who killed a Woburn police officer last month.

The eagerly awaited review by the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security found numerous serious lapses in how the agency handled Domenic Cinelli’s 2008 application for parole, including the failure of employees to inform the board that Cinelli, while using an alias, had assaulted a Chelsea police officer in 1985.

The Parole Board did not make the appropriate notifications or apply the full legal standard when it voted 6-0 to release Cinelli, according to the eight-page critique, nor did parole officers provide the proper level of supervision when he was freed. The breakdown was particularly noticeable in the months leading to the fatal shooting of Woburn police Officer John Maguire.

“After this review, I cannot say that the Parole Board or parole office did all they could to ensure public safety,’’ Patrick said at a State House press conference. He added, “The public has lost confidence in parole, and I have lost confidence in parole.’’

Patrick had been under intense pressure from police chiefs, rank-and-file officers, and lawmakers to take action against the Parole Board since Cinelli fatally shot Maguire Dec. 26 outside a Kohl’s department store following a jewelry heist. Cinelli, 57, who was killed in the shootout, had been released after about 30 years in prison despite a violent history of armed robberies.

Charles Maguire, the brother of the slain officer and a retired probation officer, said he was “ecstatic’’ to learn of the shake-up. “For the governor to be this strong, I was very happy,’’ he said at a press conference at Woburn police headquarters.

The five current Parole Board members who participated in the vote to parole Cinelli resigned yesterday morning, including Patrick’s hand-picked chairman, Mark A. Conrad. Conrad is a retired Milton police officer who had been a volunteer aide to Patrick during his successful 2006 gubernatorial campaign.

The sixth person who participated in the vote has since left the board. The remaining position on the seven-member board was vacant at the time.

The governor’s public safety secretary, Mary E. Heffernan, and his chief of staff, William “Mo’’ Cowan, spoke with Conrad Wednesday and conveyed Patrick’s concerns about the lapses in the Cinelli case. Conrad then offered his resignation. Yesterday morning, Conrad spoke with the four other board members, who offered their own resignations.

None of the board members, who were paid $80,000 to $100,000 a year, could be reached for comment.

In addition, Donald V. Giancioppo, who was executive director of the agency when Cinelli won parole, resigned from his current job as a deputy commissioner of the Department of Correction. He started that job five weeks ago. He also could not be reached for comment.

Heffernan has also suspended three employees who allegedly failed to supervise Cinelli adequately by repeatedly neglecting to contact people who knew him to see how he was behaving; she has begun the process to fire them. The three are the chief of field services, a field officer supervisor, and a parole officer.

Also suspended and reprimanded was the chief of transitional services, the unit that prepared the case file received by the board members and failed to notify prosecutors and police chiefs about Cinelli’s hearing.

The review found that the agency also did not make good faith efforts to contact some of his victims, as required, and that staff had failed to provide board members with a critical piece of information: that Cinelli, using the name Salvatore Demarco, had been arrested in 1985 on several charges, including assault and battery on a Chelsea police officer. The records had never been combined because of a computer glitch.

Patrick has named Josh Wall, the longtime first assistant district attorney in Suffolk County, as the interim executive director of the Parole Board and nominated him as the permanent chairman, pending confirmation by the Governor’s Council.

Cesar Archilla, whom Patrick appointed to the board in 2009 and did not participate in the vote to parole Cinelli, was named acting chairman. At the moment, there is only one other board member, Roger Michel, whom Patrick also appointed in 2009.

In addition, Patrick plans to file legislation to strengthen the state’s habitual offender law to require that violent felons with two prior serious convictions receive the maximum sentence for a third felony. The measure, said Patrick administration officials, will require “truth in sentencing’’ for those serving life sentences. When he was freed, Cinelli was serving three life sentences that made him eligible for parole after 15 years in prison.

Northborough Police Chief Mark Leahy, president of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, said at the Woburn press conference that his organization was “very pleased with what we heard today.’’

Attorney General Martha Coakley said in a statement that Patrick’s “strong, decisive actions were necessary to begin to restore confidence in a board [whose] first priority must be to protect the public. Today’s report issued by the Executive Office of Public Safety outlined unacceptable and widespread systemic failings at the Parole Board.’’

But the shake-up drew fire from advocates for prison inmates, members of the defense bar, and a union that represents parole officers.

Leslie Walker, executive director of Prisoners’ Legal Services, accused Patrick of pandering by making “mass firings.’’ Although she conceded that the agency had “committed several mistakes in the release and supervision of Mr. Cinelli,’’ she predicted that yesterday’s actions “will result in the virtual elimination of parole in Massachusetts.’’

“No matter what prisoners do in prison to conform their conduct to prison rules, no matter how thoroughly they are rehabilitated, and no matter how long they have lost their liberty, the governor’s new Parole Board is not going to let them out, because it’s too risky politically for him,’’ she said in a statement.

Patricia Garin, a Boston defense lawyer who helps run a Northeastern University law school clinic that provided a law student to advocate for Cinelli at his hearing, called Patrick’s actions “a response to the media, but not to the problem.’’

The Parole Board, she said, has done an exemplary job, despite underfunding. She, too, predicted that the resignations will make new board members loath to grant supervised parole, and said that that will only lead to more prisoners being released directly from prison to the streets without supervision.

Tim Barry — president of the Massachusetts Parole Officers’ Association, which represents two of the people who were suspended pending dismissal — came to the workers’ defense. He called the suspended employees “extremely dedicated public safety officers who apply the highest standards to their difficult and demanding profession.’’

Those familiar with state parole boards said Patrick’s response to the Cinelli case was extraordinary.

Mario Paparozzi, the former chairman of the New Jersey State Parole Board, said he has seen individual parole board members fired elsewhere in the country. But “I have never seen a whole board get fired,’’ he said,

Despite the documented lapses, Patrick said he believes that supervised parole is overwhelmingly successful in Massachusetts. He called Cinelli’s case a “terrible, terrible aberration,’’ but added, “There have to be consequences for this.’’

Shortly before the press conference, Patrick said, he called Maguire’s widow.

“None of this is going to bring Jack back,’’ he told reporters. “She knows that. You all know that. I know that. But what we have done and what we must do is all we can to regain the public’s confidence in a part of the criminal justice system which is vital to a successful criminal justice program.’’

Michael Rezendes, Maria Cramer, Michael Levenson, Martin Finucane, and Travis Andersen of the Globe staff contributed to this report.