A Texas parole commissioner has been indicted for tampering with a government record after at least five inmates were denied release from prison because she wrote in their files they had refused to be interviewed.
Pamela D. Freeman, one of 14 Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles commissioners who interview inmates being considered for release, was indicted on the single count in Huntsville on Wednesday. If convicted, she could face up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
"Based on the investigation and the subsequent indictment, Ms. Freeman will not be allowed to return to work at this time," Raymond Estrada, spokesman for the board said in a statement. "Her continued employment will be determined in accordance with established policies, procedures and/or the resulting disposition of the charge."
The case began last June when San Antonio lawyer Kevin Stouwie complained to state Sen. John Whitmire, chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, and Texas Department of Criminal Justice Inspector General Bruce Toney.
"It always concerns you that you have people entrusted with such huge responsibilities allegedly violating the trust and responsibilities to do the right thing," Whitmire said. "We have zero tolerance if we know about it."
A copy of Stouwie's complaint, obtained by The Texas Tribune, stated that on April 30, at least five inmates on the Wynne Unit in Huntsville were called into an area to be interviewed by Freeman.
The inmates and other prison workers saw Freeman at the prison that day, but said she did not interview any of the five. The men's files included Freeman's remarks that they had refused to be interviewed by her. All five were denied parole.
Contacted late Friday, Stouwie said he found out about the incident from the inmates' attorneys and is considering representing them in a civil action against the parole board.
"It's not clear to me whether they are going to reconsider those cases," said Kevin Stouwie. "They may and if they do, that could have a bearing of what happens."
Pardons and Parole Board Chair Rissie Owens said in a statement that the incident does not reflect the actions of the rest of the board's employees.
"While this incident is unfortunate and certainly impermissible if true, it is by no means representative of our agency, which is comprised of dedicated, honorable and hard-working staff who take pride in the work they do to represent the board,” Owens said.
This investigation is not the first time attorneys have complained about Freeman's actions, according to Bill Habern, a lawyer in Huntsville who handles parole cases and who filed a grievance against her with the board a year ago.
"She's had a long and troubled history with lawyers who do parole work," he said. "Most board members I deal with, including those on the current board, seem to be sincere, dedicated people who try to do the right thing."
Freeman was charged with interviewing inmates who who had served at least 20 years of their sentences and had never been interviewed by a parole commissioner. She was one of two commissioners based in Huntsville and has been in that post since 2004.
A call to her home for comment on the indictment was not immediately returned.