'I've got to raise enough hell': State senator renews push for better tracking of wanted parolees

Robert Arnold reporting.

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas – For the second straight year, a veteran state senator is pushing for the creation of task forces to track down high-risk parolees accused of violating conditions of their parole. This effort follows the arrest of Robert Solis, who is accused of murdering Harris County sheriff's Deputy Sandeep Dhaliwal during a traffic stop in September.

"We need a group of law enforcement officers that that's all they do and everyone knows that's all they do," said state Sen. John Whitmire, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.

This is the second year in a row Whitmire has called for the creation of regional task forces to help parole officers and local law enforcement agencies track down wanted parolees. The last time Whitmire called for this effort came after parolee Jose Gilberto Rodriguez was accused of cutting off his ankle monitor and going on a crime spree.

"I've got to raise enough hell and make it a high enough priority to get the resources," said Whitmire. "We've reached the point where somebody has to be held accountable for it."

Blue warrants

When a parolee is accused of violating conditions of their parole, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice can issue what's commonly referred to as a "blue warrant." These warrants are issued for everything from technical violations of parole conditions all the way to the commission of new crimes.

TDCJ numbers released in February of this year show more than 84,000 parolees are under active supervision and more than 13,000 blue warrants were issued during fiscal year 2018.

However, parole officers don't have the authority to arrest anyone and, therefore, rely on local law enforcement to make those arrests. Typically this happens when a wanted parolee crosses paths with an officer or is charged with committing a new crime.

Solis had an active blue warrant for his arrest for nearly two years before he was pulled over by Dhaliwal. Fort Bend County records show on Dec. 30, 2016, Solis' then-girlfriend accused him of assaulting her and carrying a gun.

However, Fort Bend County sheriff's officials said the woman declined to press charges and committed suicide three weeks after filing the report. Even though no new criminal charges were filed, sheriff's officials still took the step of forwarding the woman's accusations to Solis' parole officer, which triggered the blue warrant.

Some, like Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, have criticized TDCJ for not doing a better job of letting local agencies know which blue warrants represent parolees who pose a danger to the public.

Since the incident with Rodriguez in 2018, TDCJ's Jeremy Desel has been working on this issue.

"We are exploring options and ways we can go through those warrants and maybe categorize them and say to local law enforcement, 'Hey, here are 60 offenders that we have issued warrants on in the last 60 days, the last 120 days that we think are high priority, take a look,'" said Desel.

Desel also said TDCJ has been working with Acevedo, who created a regional task force last year, to identify violent parolees who've gone on the run. TDCJ has also added a most wanted parole offender section on its website, as well as Wanted Wednesdays on its social media channels. Desel said out of the wanted parolees featured on Wanted Wednesdays, 68% have been arrested.

The task force spearheaded by Acevedo has conducted four operations in the last year and is in the midst of a fifth operation. The Houston Police Department reported 559 wanted parolees have been arrested during these operations. Whitmire wants to see this effort replicated across the state.

"We all have to recognize we got a serious problem," said Whitmire.

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