Ignored policies, violent crimes raise questions about Ohio’s ability to watch ex-offenders

Failure To Watch
Failure to watch

State corrections officials have said the murder of Ohio State student Reagan Tokes was an outlier – a rare occurrence of the parole system not working.

But a months-long investigation by 10 Investigates has found that’s not true.

There were other cases.

Other victims.

Other examples that raise serious questions about the state of Ohio’s ability to monitor some of the most violent felons once they were released from prison.

Through a series interviews and open records requests spanning months, 10 Investigates found documents showing the state has known about problems within its parole system for years but failed to act.

10 Investigates also found the state may have violated its own policy in some cases by failing to require “exclusion and inclusion zones” that would’ve restricted the movements of ex-offenders once they’re released from prison.

There are also larger problems - that many offenders at risk of re-offending are being released homeless.

What’s more – the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, its parole officers and operators of halfway houses are still losing track of many of these offenders once they get out of prison.

According to ODRC figures, there are currently 1375 ex-offenders who have violated the terms of their parole and are considered to be “at-large” – meaning the state of Ohio has no idea where they are.

The findings by 10 Investigates highlight concerns and a systemic failure by the state to rectify some of these problems.

Victims and their families are now asking – if policies on the books hadn’t been ignored or partially implemented could some deaths have been prevented?


Reagan Tokes wasn’t the first victim

It’s a question Lisa and Toby Tokes are asking themselves.

"I seriously can't even believe that is what is in place in the state of Ohio – especially being that it's 2017,” Lisa McCrary-Tokes told a panel of lawmakers last month.

Lisa and Toby Tokes have said their daughter’s death was preventable.

They are trying to convince state lawmakers that change is needed. The Reagan Tokes Act, named after their daughter, would drastically change how offenders are sentenced to prison by allowing judges to sentence inmates to a range of years rather than a finite amount of time. The legislation also calls for lessening the caseload burden on parole officers, creating a new re-entry program for “hard to place offenders” and creating a statewide GPS database that would require “inclusion and exclusion” zones for those under state supervision.

Authorities say Tokes’ daughter, Reagan Tokes, was kidnapped, raped and murdered in February.

The Ohio State University senior was months away from graduating when her life was cut short.

“She was left in a field naked, naked and shot twice in the head on a bitterly cold night. And she laid there for 12 hours before somebody found her frozen, lifeless body,” Lisa McCrary-Tokes said during an October legislative panel hearing at the Ohio Statehouse.

Lisa and Toby Tokes cast blame on both the man charged with their daughter’s murder, Brian Golsby, and the state they say failed to watch him.

“He should never have been out on the streets, and he especially should not have been out there unmonitored,” she said.


Golsby’s past

Golsby was released from prison in November of 2016 – three months before his arrest for Reagan’s murder.

Records obtained by 10 Investigates show Golsby acted out during his six-year prison term. He was transferred to other prisons within the state several times and acquired 52 infractions for misbehaving.

After being released after serving time for attempted rape and robbery, no halfway house would accept Golsby because of his sex offender status.

Correction officials have said despite evidence he was not rehabilitated, they were left with no choice but to release him from prison homeless.

Current Ohio law does not allow prisoners to be given additional time for bad behavior.

In an effort to keep better track of his whereabouts, state corrections officials asked the Alvis house to assign a GPS ankle monitor to Golsby.

But 10 Investigates learned he wasn’t closely watched.

Parole records obtained by 10 Investigates show Golsby sometimes failed to charge the device’s battery.

He also went missing from the EXIT program residential center that eventually agreed to house him.

Despite this, Golsby faced little sanction.

There were also no guardrails restricting Golsby’s movements – no inclusion or exclusion zones that would’ve restricted where he could or could not go despite a 2016 ODRC policy that states the Adult Parole Authority: “shall submit an initial schedule with at least the first week of monitoring to include any curfews inclusion zones and exclusion zones."

Despite wearing a GPS ankle monitor, Golsby was not watched.

It was only after Golsby’s arrest for Reagan’s murder that police checked the GPS data.

And when they did, police say it ties Golsby to a series of robberies in the German Village area in the weeks and the day before Reagan disappeared after leaving her job.

Authorities say that data also places Golsby at Scioto Grove Metro Park where Reagan’s body was discovered.


Doubts about GPS ankle monitor’s effectiveness

Through an open records request, 10 Investigates has uncovered a previously unreleased email by Columbus Police that appears to show some may have doubts about the effectiveness of Golsby’s ankle monitor.

The email, sent internally with the department days after Golsby’s arrest in February reads in part:

“Golsby had an ankle monitor on when we arrested him and they just got the GPS locations downloaded off it, and he was at each of the robberies. Seems those monitors are quite the deterrent.”


Reagan Tokes wasn’t first victim of “flawed” system

During that October legislative hearing, Lisa McCrary-Tokes laid the blame at the feet of the man charged and at the state.

“Our daughter lost her life over a flawed system. This is our reality that will never go away, change or get better for us. How many others were there before her?” she asked.

There were others.

Ronda Blankenship is one of those other victims.

She survived an armed robbery in December of 2013 at a home in Barberton, Ohio.

She is the only survivor.

Her boyfriend, Johnny Kohler and his two children, Ashley Carpenter and David Kohler-Carpenter, were shot dead.

Court records state two men – Eric Hendon and his younger brother Michael – came into the home on December 31, 2013 looking for money and drugs.

“I pretty much witnessed (Eric) shooting Johnny, shooting Ashley and shooting David,” she said. “That was horrible. And then them coming back at me. That was even scarier looking down the barrel of a gun.”

Ronda lost her eye and was stabbed in the face as she says she tried to intervene.

“It all happened in six minutes and it seemed like it took forever. It was like a lifetime,” Blankenship said. And come to find out he was wearing a GPS tracker.”

Eric Hendon, the man later convicted of killing Ronda’s boyfriend and his children was wearing a GPS ankle monitor and was under the watch of the state when police say he committed the crime.

After serving 12 and half years for rape and attempted murder for placing a gun inside a woman and pulling the trigger, Hendon was released from prison and assigned a GPS ankle monitor through the Oriana House in the Akron, OH area.

According to parole and court records reviewed by 10 Investigates, a parole officer read about the shooting in a local newspaper and authorities were able to use the data from Hendon’s GPS ankle monitor to place him at the crime scene.

Hendon was convicted of the triple murder and sentenced to life in prison in May of 2016.

“If more would have been done, I think that he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do what he did,” Blankenship told 10 Investigates.


Long-standing lax supervision?

10 Investigates months-long investigation also found several issues that raise questions about the level of supervision provided to offenders once they are released from prison.

“The system needs to be worked on,” said Kristi Owens.

More than five years ago, Kristi Owens met a man in the park named Billy Dee Anderson.

They formed a relationship that she says was normal. Until it wasn’t.

Owens said he turned violent.

“He never raped me. But he beat me. Put his hands on me. He wouldn't let me leave. That's scary,” Owens said.

The last straw, court records show, was a 2012 incident that involved Kristi being held against her will at a Columbus hotel room.

The incident, in which she says she had a physical altercation with Anderson who pinned her against her will and would not let her leave, landed Anderson in prison for three and a half years.

During his prison term, 10 Investigates found Anderson acquired more than 80 sanctions for acting out – including disobeying orders.

He was also accused by guards and other inmates of acting out sexually.

“To me, the state is not really doing their job,” Owens said.

Despite accruing more than 80 violations while in prison, Anderson was released after his three and half year sentence.

But parole records obtained by 10 Investigates through an open records request show he never showed up to his halfway house.

Instead, authorities say he went to a downtown Chase bank in Columbus where he raped a female employee near the vault.

Anderson was later convicted in that case and currently serving a 40-year sentence in that case.

“Why would you let somebody with a history of violence and do this and let him out free, and then trust him that he is going to go somewhere. That’s crazy,” Owens told 10 Investigates during a lengthy interview about her concerns about the state’s ability to watch ex-offenders.

Anthony Caldwell with the SEIU District 1199, the union that represents state parole officers. He says the questions we’ve been raising point to long-standing issues within the state corrections system.

“This happens more often than we care to admit where violent offenders are in our community, they're not properly monitored and then they re-offend in violent and horrific ways,” Caldwell said.

In fact, we found the state has known about other problems– specifically – that many halfway houses won't accept sex-offenders – which often leads to many of them being released from prison homeless.

A 2006 document by the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee shows that "hard-to-place" offenders "have the greatest need for such secure, structured and supervised placements on return to the community." And that "this has been a long-term issue of concern that remains current."

The policy paper, filed by the Ohio Correctional Institution Inspection Committee or CIIC, was written more than 10 years ago.

This year, the state Department of Rehabilitation and Correction will spend $67 million on halfway houses.

10 Investigates pressed Caldwell on this issue of why hasn’t more been done?

Bennett Haeberle: “Why wasn’t someone screaming from the rooftops, ‘we have to fix this’… Why wasn’t your union? Why weren’t the parole officers? Why weren’t your voices louder?

Caldwell: “I mean, for the last decade we have been working with DRC in raising this issue all the time, saying that we need more manageable caseloads.”

According to ODRC figures for October 2017, there are 453 parole officers assigned to monitor 38,015 ex-inmates who are now under state supervision.

“This is a failure of the overall system,” Caldwell said.


Access denied

For months, 10 Investigates has tried to get an interview with ODRC Director Gary Mohr.

Our repeated requests for an interview were denied.

Meaning our questions have gone unanswered.

Our questions have centered around the discoveries we’ve made through months’ worth of research, interviews and reviews of court and parole records.

Namely, 10 Investigates wants to know why has the state failed to fully implement its own policies?

Why hasn’t more action been taken if state corrections officials have known for years that ex-inmates prone to re-offend are being released homeless?

Why is the state still losing track of more than 1300 offenders?

Why wasn’t more done to address these concerns?

We have not received answers to any of these questions.

On September 27, 2017, the same day Lisa and Toby Tokes came to Ohio to announce legislation named after their daughter, Gary Mohr called us.

The Tokes were in the room. The conversation, he said, could not be used for broadcast, which is why we still wanted to question him directly.

We filed additional open records requests with ODRC asking for a copy of Mohr’s public schedule. We were denied a copy of his public scheduled citing security concerns.

Mohr was threatened by a former inmate, who is currently one of the 1375 ex-offenders the state cannot find.

Despite being denied a formal interview, 10 Investigates caught up with him the next day at an event about criminal justice and prison reform in Akron, OH.

We asked Director Mohr if we could ask him follow-up questions from our conversation the day before.

“I am focused on this. We’re not going to – I’m going to talk about this – but let’s be focused on this event today,” Mohr said.

When 10 Investigates pressed further about the fact that the Tokes have said their daughter’s death was preventable and that the state has known for years that “hard-to-place” offenders like Brian Golsby require a secured place to stay, Mohr declined to answer.

“Listen we are going to focus on this,” Mohr said.

When pressed further about why he couldn’t answer our questions, Mohr walked away.

The department was not pleased with 10 Investigates’ efforts to get answers.

In a series of emails uncovered by 10 Investigates by an open records request, we found the state voiced that displeasure.

“This news crew tried to ambush the director at the summit,” wrote one ODRC employee to the department spokesmen.

We found the department also had no trouble monitoring us, they snapped a photo of a 10TV news photographer.

What’s still not clear is why so many voices were silent for so long.


The Tokes family had this to say following tonight’s 10 Investigates report:

“We are incredibly grateful to Bennett Haberle and channel 10 investigative team (if we should refer to your team differently feel free to change that part)for all they continue to uncover and expose as it pertains to our situation and others like it. It is sickening and shocking to constantly learn more on the flaws and failures to the current system in Ohio that has allowed so much violence and innocent loss of life to occur. Our hearts and prayers go out to all the victims of horrific crimes in this state. How much longer is the system and those in charge of fixing it going to allow repeated violent offenses to continue before action is taken to stop it? We hope this continued exposure and investigation speaks volumes to those in positions of power for change to step up and act to fix what is so broken.”

COMPLETE COVERAGE: Latest on the investigation into Reagan Tokes' death

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