Halfway House Fugitives in Utah

There is a growing concern in Utah over multiple fugitives who have walked away from a halfway house in Salt Lake City Utah and violently reoffended within the last several months.

Roaming the streets

Photo by: Thomas Leuthard

Photo by: Thomas Leuthard

Between September 2015 and now, there have been three known violent fugitives from a halfway house in Salt Lake City called Fortitude Treatment Center. All three of these fugitives were in the headlines after behaving aggressively towards the public. One took the life of a Unified Police Department officer in January.

Loss of an officer

44 year old Officer Douglas Barney was shot and killed last month while pursuing a fugitive involved in a hit and run accident. Officer Barney received a fatal gunshot to the head while another officer was shot multiple times but miraculously survived. 31 year Old Cory Lee Henderson, the man that killed Officer Barney, disappeared from the Fortitude Treatment Center in Salt Lake City. Henderson had been missing from the halfway house for less than a month when he took the life of Officer Barney, father of three and cancer survivor.

More AWOL parolees

Photo by: Seniju

Photo by: Seniju

Henderson’s desertion of the treatment center came less than four months after another fugitive, Robert Richard Berger, left the Fortitude Treatment Center and burglarized and violently attacked and stabbed a Salt Lake City woman in her home before he was shot and killed. From the same halfway house as Henderson and Berger came yet one more violent reoffender, 29 year old Tommy Burnham, who is currently on the run for ramming a police car after a high speed chase that stretched through multiple cities in the Salt Lake Valley.

Late night search

These three reoffenders all had one thing in common: they all left the Fortitude Treatment Center and never returned. Following the most recent fugitive reoffender incident, an extensive early morning search was done of the halfway house. Of the over 100 offenders searched, the AP&P discovered 18 were either testing positive for drugs or violating their parole. There was also an community search by the AP&P that turned up nearly a dozen offenders who were also fugitives from the Fortitude Treatment Center. Most of these fugitives were returned to prison.

Halfway houses in Utah

Photo by: Craig Sunter

Photo by: Craig Sunter

The Utah Department of Corrections has five halfway houses known as community correctional centers throughout the northern half of Utah; three of these centers are for men and two for women. These halfway houses are to help offenders transition to life on the other side of the bars. According to the UDC website, “ These halfway houses are designed to help offenders who may not have a place to go when they leave prison, need additional treatment as they transition back into the community or are struggling and at risk of returning to jail or prison.” Regarding those who are struggling, the website also states that at least two of these centers, the Atherton Community Treatment Center for Women and the Fortitude Treatment Center for men, are specifically for offenders who have already violated their probation or parole.

Good Intentions

Although the UDC claims that in the Fortitude Treatment Center, “the offender is subject to tighter restrictions” and “agents actively monitor an offender”, there are apparently complications with this halfway house which holds over 300 offenders, nearly double the capacity of any other halfway house in Utah. While all these community correctional centers in Utah are wonderful for transitioning when run correctly, they are dangerous to the community when offenders slip through the cracks. Offenders, especially those prone to reoffend, should be monitored more cautiously and reported immediately if unable to locate. Unfortunately, glitches with halfway houses such as the Fortitude could potentially cause issues down the road such as closures for other halfway houses that currently run efficiently. This would be devastating for those offenders who would have benefited from the transitioning centers.

Sexual Assault on College Campus

A former Utah State University frat brother pleaded guilty yesterday to two cases of sexual assault that took place on and near the college campus.

Stealing bases

Photo by: Valeria C★Preisler

Photo by: Valeria C★Preisler

27 year old Jason Brian Relopez was arrested after two women came forward stating that on separate incidents Relopez had sexually forced himself on them. Both women made out with Relopez voluntarily, however he was the only one tolerable with taking things to the next level. One incident happened in 2014 during a private study night while the other happened in 2015 at a frat party at the Sigma Chi House.

Marked for life

Relopez, a former student at Utah State University, pleaded guilty to a plea deal that reduced his charges from aggravated rape and sexual assault to attempted rape and forcible sexual abuse. Although the settled charges don’t save him from a first degree felony, there is a chance he may get probation instead. Either way, he will be on the sex offender registry for the remainder of his life.

No means “no”

When engaging in sexual relations with another person, it is always advised to get verbal consent first. The victim from the 2014 incident did state that she told Relopez she did not want to have sex with him. Regarding the sexual assault that took place at the frat house in 2015 however, the victim never told Relopez “no” but she also did not give him consent to make sexual advances on her. Both instances can be considered sexual assault because in both cases, consent was not given. While a verbal “no” is a clear dispute to consent, not saying anything which could happen due to fear or alcohol or drug abuse, should be considered a negative as well.

Sexual assault at college

Photo by: Miles Gehm

Photo by: Miles Gehm

Sexual assault is a serious issue and college campuses are not immune to the problem. There have been recent statistics that state over 20 percent of young college students have been victims of sexual assault. Although a high number of those sexual assaults on campus are noted to be from serial rapists with malicious intent, there are occasional instances when there could be grave miscommunications that end in charges. College parties where young adults mingle with excess amounts of alcohol are times when things could get out of hand unintentionally. Some ways to avoid such horrific errors are:

• Both parties should be clear on their intentions and observe the other person for hints of hesitation.

• Reduce the amount of alcoholic beverages consumed. When people overdrink, they are less likely to read situations correctly.

• If alcohol is on the menu, have a designated sober friend to attend parties with. The person not drinking can help distinguish if things are getting out of control.

• Keep a drug free party zone. Date rape drugs are given such a nickname due to the fact that it makes the other party unable to give consent, even if they voluntarily take the pill to begin with. On a related note, discard unattended drinks.

• Always get consent. Always.

Sexual offenses without consent

Utah code 76-5-406 states that sexual offenses are “without consent of the victim [if] the victim expresses lack of consent through words or conduct; the actor overcomes the victim through ( . . . ) physical force or violence; the actor is able to overcome the victim through concealment or by the element of surprise; the actor coerces the victim to submit by threatening to retaliate ( . . . ); the actor knows the victim is unconscious, unaware that the act is occurring, or physically unable to resist; ( . . .) the actor intentionally impaired the power of the victim to appraise or control his or her conduct by administering any substance without the victim’s knowledge; ( . . . )”

Time of your life, or away for life

College is supposed to be the time of your life. Sexual assault charges such as rape or forcible sexual abuse can bring mean the rest of your life in jail. For legal aid regarding sexual offense charges, contact a criminal defense attorney.

Pipe Bomb Found at St. George Car Wash

A pipe bomb was found strapped to the office door handle of a car wash in St. George Utah earlier this month. It is still unknown why the car wash was targeted with the pipe bomb or who placed it there.

Homemade explosive device

Pipe bomb

Photo by: Andrew Kuznetsov

A pipe bomb is homemade explosive device that is typically made with metal piping filled tight with shrapnel. A pipe bomb in comparison to other explosives is simple to make, yet extremely dangerous not only for the target but also for the person manufacturing it as they have a tendency to explode prematurely. Those who choose pipe bombs as their mode of violence generally have little to no engineering or chemistry background and limited funds necessary to construct a more technical bomb.

Felony charges for pipe bomb

When authorities in St. George discover who made and placed the pipe bomb at the local car wash, that person is likely to be looking at felony charges. Although a pipe bomb can be made with random items found in many residents’ garages, the charges for it are the same as having a higher tech explosive. Utah Code 76-10-306 states: “Any person is guilty of a second degree felony who ( . . . ) knowingly, intentionally, or recklessly possesses or controls an explosive, chemical, or incendiary device.  Any person is guilty of a first degree felony who ( . . . ) knowingly or intentionally:
(a) uses or causes to be used an explosive, chemical, or incendiary device in the commission of or an attempt to commit a felony;
(b) injures another or attempts to injure another person or another person’s property through the use of an explosive, chemical, or incendiary device; or
(c) transports, possesses, distributes, or sells any explosive, chemical, or incendiary device in a secure area [such as a prison or police station]”

Up to life in prison

Possession or use of a pipe bomb can bring a prison sentence for a duration of anywhere from one year to life in prison. For information on legal aid for possession of an explosive device, contact a criminal defense attorney.