Just over a week ago, the Walker County District Attorney secured an indictment against Parole Commissioner Pamela Freeman on one count of tampering with governmental record. Her offense has been classified as a third degree felony. She has since been arrested and released on bond. I have decided to write this blog post in order to provide my insights and perspective about this matter. I have received numerous media inquiries and interview requests in the time since the indictment, and I have mixed feelings about discussing this matter with members of the media. I have also received calls and emails from family members of some of my clients who are incarcerated in prisons within the Huntsville Region of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.
It is hoped that this blog post will help to clarify my perspective on this unfortunate mess. My small cadre of blog readers, and many others, have a legitimate desire to remain well informed about this latest development and the effect it may have at the Board of Pardons and Paroles.
I should begin by saying that I have always had tremendous respect for the people who are entrusted to vote cases at the Board, with the exception of Ms. Freeman. Similarly, the staff who work with the voters are all professional, dedicated public servants. Before I address my opinions about Ms. Freeman and what is now happening, I want to emphasize that the Board performs a very difficult job with very limited resources allocated to their budget, and they do the very best that they can. Other than Ms. Freeman, I have always believed that all of the other voters, including all of the Board Members and Parole Commissioners, are genuinely interested in making wise decisions about prisoners that are consistent with the Board’s mission, its policies, and the needs of the people of the state of Texas. My opinion is that none of the other people who work hard at the Board should be maligned or suspected of being the type of person who would do the kind of things Ms. Freeman is alleged to have done. That point cannot be lost in all of the fallout or public reaction that will surely follow the Pamela Freeman debacle.
With the recent addition of the Austin Board Office, the Board presently consists of seven Board Offices, with 14 Parole Commissioners and 7 Board Members. There is presently a vacancy in one Board Member slot; the slot recently vacated by the Board Member in Huntsville, Roman Chavez. Board Member Chavez was constructively discharged (my interpretation) by Board Chair Rissie Owens the day before the indictment of Pamela Freeman. The official version is that Ms. Owens merely made a decision to transfer Mr. Chavez to the Austin Board Office. Another way to view the situation is that Ms. Owens knew Mr. Chavez would not uproot his family and move to Austin. Although this management decision by Ms. Owens is certainly worth further scrutiny, it must be clarified that Mr. Chavez is NOT, and has never been suspected of doing the things for which Ms. Freeman is indicted, and neither is Ms. Owens for that matter.
In fact, Mr. Chavez seems to have done whatever he could to try to hold Ms. Freeman accountable once he concluded that Ms. Freeman had engaged in unethical and illegal acts while she was supposed to be carrying out her job responsibilities on April 30.
As a preliminary matter, it should be known that the Board’s voters almost never interview inmates who have been incarcerated for less than 20 years. While this is extremely unfortunate, it is the inevitable consequence of having a Parole Board with so few people to vote cases in comparison to the enormous number of inmates who are to be reviewed for parole every year. However, the Board does have a policy that requires a voter to interview all inmates who have been incarcerated for more than 20 years. On April 30, 2014, Ms. Freeman was sent to the Wynne Unit in Huntsville for the purpose of interviewing inmates who had passed the 20 year point. It is not clear to me if there were five or six interviews that Ms. Freeman was supposed to conduct on that particular day, but it is clear that there were at least five such interviews.
April 30, 2014
All interviews with inmates are requested and approved through the Warden’s office, and a “lay in” slip is ordinarily given to the inmate the night before the interview. This process was followed in the case of the April 30 scheduled interviews at the Wynne Unit. However, the inmates did not know who would be conducting the interview prior to the scheduled time. The inmates dutifully came to the area adjacent to the Institutional Parole Office on the morning of April 30, prior to the 11am time listed on their lay in slips. They sat together and briefly spoke about the purpose of their lay ins. As anyone, except perhaps Ms. Freeman, can imagine, nearly all prisoners who have been incarcerated for 20 plus years are extremely eager to finally get an opportunity to sit and talk to a person who literally holds the keys to the prison in their hands.
A little while after the men came into the room adjoining the Parole Office Wynne, one of them looked through the glass of the door to the room they were in and saw Ms. Freeman. He recognized Freeman because he had seen her several years earlier. He promptly informed the other men that Ms. Freeman was going to be the person who would perform the interviews.
What happened next is very troubling. It was 11am, and the interviews were supposed to begin. A moment later, Ms. Freeman packed up her things and left. She did not say one word to any of the men who were waiting to be interviewed. In fact, she was never even in the same room with any of the men. The personnel at the prison did nothing to discourage or prevent Ms. Freeman from doing her job that day. In fact, the opposite is true. Nonetheless, Ms. Freeman left without any obvious excuse or justification.
At least a couple of the men saw Ms. Freeman walk right past the glass window to the room’s door on her way out. The men were confused at first, but they stayed and waited to be told what was going on. A few moments later, they were informed that the interviews were not going to happen on that day afterall. At least one of the men asked when the interviews would be re-scheduled, and TDCJ Parole personnel told the men that it was unknown when the interviews would occur. Then, the men were all excused and sent off to go back to their normal daily routines.
How The Lie Became A Crime
A little later in the day, Ms. Freeman told others at the Huntsville Board Office, including Board Member Chavez, that the men had refused to be interviewed. All five men. Men with very long sentences who had waited twenty plus years to get a chance to meet and speak to the person most able to free them from their prison cells. Yeah, she actually claimed that these men had all blown off their interview opportunities. She tried to make her insane allegation more believable by claiming that the reason behind the refusal was that the men had chosen to eat fried chicken in the prison cafeteria instead of being interviewed. All of them.
After the absurd fried chicken claim, Ms. Freeman documented the alleged refusals of the men to be interviewed in official records and in the computer system. Aside from her own false claim, she also knew that the other voter(s) would rely upon the false information during their decision making process.
One of the men at Wynne who had been waiting to be interviewed happened to be represented by attorney Mary Samaan, an experienced parole attorney from Houston. Ms. Samaan was quickly made aware that her client had not been interviewed, but she initially had no idea why the interview had not taken place. She contacted the Huntsville Board Office and soon learned that Ms. Freeman was claiming that her client had refused the interview. Ms. Samann knew this was a preposterous claim, and did what she could to make Ms. Freeman understand that her client had been waiting to be interviewed and had not refused the interview.
Ms. Freeman did not enjoy being challenged by Ms. Samaan, and in typical Pam Freeman fashion, Ms. Freeman became angry and belligerent. It is my understanding that parole personnel from Wynne also challenged Ms. Freeman’s claims as soon as these claims were known by them. To no avail. Ms. Freeman had lied, and rather than apologize or even claim that she had simply been wrong, she maintained her ridiculous factual allegations. To this day, to my knowledge, she has never admitted that she lied.
All of the men at Wynne who had supposedly refused the interview by Parole Commissioner Freeman were denied parole.
Ms. Samaan spoke with me about what had happened in the days immediately following the unethical behavior of Ms. Freeman, I was a civil litigator during my first 8 years as an attorney. Ms. Samaan and I discussed whether Ms. Freeman could be sued, and if so, what the cause of action might look like. I offered to help her client, but I first needed to thoroughly interview him, which I did as soon as I was going to be in the Huntsville area again.
After confirming, to my complete satisfaction, that Ms. Freeman had committed a few possible crimes and may well have ruined several men’s long awaited opportunity to put the prison life behind them forever, I sat and pondered what to do next. Ultimately, I decided to wait a month or longer to see if the Board would take any action against Ms. Freeman. Nothing seemed to happen. Finally, I decided to hold off on a lawsuit against the Board of Pardons and Paroles, and we opted instead to make other public officials outside of TDCJ aware of Ms. Freeman’s unconscionable and illegal actions. Around the end of June, I chose to lay out the entire matter, to the best of my ability,as I understood it, to Texas Senator John Whitmire and the Office of the Inspector General (OIG)..
I will assume the OIG conducted a thorough investigation, and I should add that I have not seen any of the results of this investigation nor spoken to anyone with OIG about this matter. However, I think it’s safe to assume the OIG discovered even more than I have outlined in this blog. I also later learned that Mr. Chavez had, at some point, brought the Freeman debacle to the attention of OIG officials. I do not know when, or how Mr. Chavez classified the Pamela Freeman actions of April 30, but I assume he will be one of the witnesses called by the attorneys at trial, in the event she is crazy enough to take her case to trial.
It’s my understanding that Ms. Freeman was finally suspended after she was indicted. However, she is still collecting a paycheck. Lord only knows how that is possible, especially given a pile of other complaints that were made by many different people in recent years. One thing that deeply troubles me is that Ms. Freeman may have falsely claimed that other inmates refused to be interviewed on other occasions. If anyone believes this type of thing may have happened to other inmates in the past, I will be happy to assist in the process of seeking the truth and correcting such a terrible wrong.
I want to acknowledge how grateful I am to Senator Whitmire and the OIG, for treating this matter as the serious and terrible thing it really is. I am also impressed that the Walker County District Attorney has chosen to prosecute Ms. Freeman. I hope that this whole mess will somehow teach us all some valuable lessons about how important it is to treat the inmates with dignity and respect and perform the duties of the Parole Board properly. After personally experiencing some pretty horrible behaviors and actions perpetrated by Ms. Freeman in the past, I am quite relieved and encouraged that she has finally lost her ability to do any more damage.
A final note: It is my understanding that the men who Ms. Freeman claimed refused the interview have all had their parole files pulled, and were recently interviewed. Their parole decisions have not been released yet, but as I said in my complaint, the point of this whole thing is not whether any of these men would have made parole if Freeman hadn’t behaved in such an outrageous and deplorable manner. The integrity of the Board and its personnel must be preserved, and unethical or illegal conduct cannot be allowed to go unpunished if we are to have faith in the Board going forward.