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LAPD complains about parole officials classifying suspect in police shooting as 'low-level, nonviolent'

July 14, 2010 |  5:25 pm

The Los Angeles Police Department has asked the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to investigate how a parolee who fired nearly a dozen gunshots at two LAPD officers over the weekend in the San Fernando Valley was able to gain early release and why he was classified as a low-level offender.

In the letter to Corrections Secretary Matthew Cate, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck expressed concern that Javier Joseph Rueda, 28, of Panorama City was placed on "non-revocable parole" in May after serving just two years of a 10-year prison sentence.

"If you determine that there were issues regarding Mr. Rueda's status, we would appreciate your feedback on how we can work with you to ensure that incidents of a similar nature do not occur," Beck wrote.

Paul M. Weber, head of the union that represents nearly 10,000 LAPD officers, was far more critical, calling parole policies -- including the state's early-release program and computerized parole classification system -- a threat to officers.

"We have repeatedly warned for months that it’s only a matter of time before the Department of Corrections’ ‘non-revocable’ parole policy — which pushes prisoners back onto the streets and prevents their return to prison — enables a parolee to kill a police officer or an innocent member of our community," Weber said. "It was only by the sheer grace of God that these officers were not killed by this parolee, who still should have been in prison."

Rueda was shot and killed Saturday after he allegedly got out of his car and opened fire on two officers who had been pursuing him on suspicion of driving under the influence. One officer was shot in the lower arm, and his partner injured his wrist after a fall. 

State records show that Rueda, who police described as a Vineland Boys gang member, was classified as a “low-level, non-violent” parolee" and therefore was not being monitored by parole agents with the corrections department.

Known by the gang monikers "Jayboy" and "Ghost," Rueda was paroled Jan. 25 after serving time for a 2007 conviction on charges that included evading an officer, car theft, possession of a silencer and possession of a controlled substance while armed with a firearm.

In recent months, police officials have said more attention needs to be placed on how parolees are monitored. The law has long required different levels of monitoring for those released from state prison, with violent offenders subject to more rigorous checks, including more frequent visits with their parole agents.

A new law that went into effect this year aimed to cut the state inmate population by about 6,500. The reductions, targeting low-level offenders, are achieved in part through good-behavior credits but also by revising parole rules to stop police agencies from returning nonviolent offenders to prison for minor parole violations.

State parole officials contend that the changes in the law allow their agents to concentrate on the most dangerous offenders. They say the average caseload for each parole agent statewide before the law passed was 70 parolees and that when the law is fully implemented, the number will drop to 48.

State corrections spokesman Oscar Hidalgo said it was possible there was confusion about Rueda's gang status. But he added that that even if Rueda had been on supervised parole, Saturday's events might still have occurred.

"Supervised parole is not incarceration," Hidalgo said.

In addition to the supervision of parolees, law enforcement officials -- including Beck and Weber -- have raised questions about the new computer risk-assessment tool called Parole Violation Decision-Making Instrument.

The program is designed to identify parolees who carry a high risk of violence and who need more attention, as well as lower-risk offenders, whom parole agents would spend less time monitoring and who might be eligible for targeted programs rather than being put back behind bars.

The technology has not been without its issues. Some 600 felons were classified as being at "low risk" of reoffending. Of those, 240 that were granted parole were reclassified and were supervised. Corrections officials said 1,700 agents are currently monitoring more than 108,000 parolees across the state. 

Weber, who wrote the governor last year to slam the computer program, said the entire law mandating early release and parole reclassification should be scrapped.

“We are putting the CDCR on notice now — don’t you dare come to an officer’s funeral and tell us how sorry you are that one of your parolees, who should have been in prison, killed a police officer," Weber said.  "Your chance to make amends is now, when you can correct the problem before someone else is hurt or killed and scrap a policy that puts officers and the public in danger."

-- Andrew Blankstein