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Probation absconders pose threat

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BY LINDELL JOHN KAY
Staff Writer

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Arrested for a gangland-style execution of an Enfield man in 2015, Matthew Simms made bail and was given a suspended sentence on unrelated weapons charges in 2016.

He was a probation absconder by the time he was charged in late 2017 with gunning down two elderly couples as they played cards in their Halifax County home in the infamous quadruple homicide.

Simms is 25. Such violent crimes charged to young adult offenders already on probation is causing growing concern among local law enforcement officials.

Nash County Sheriff Keith Stone said authorities should do everything feasible to help offenders get back on their feet. However, second-, third- and fifth-chance probationers who commit serious crimes should be revoked immediately and placed in prison where they belong.

“This system of allowing people to commit crimes and fail drug tests and no immediate action is taken shouldn't be tolerated,” Stone said. “We're stewards of the justice system. We're meant to protect people from those who commit crimes. This is not the way probation was intended. The state of North Carolina can do better.”

Kashard Raheem Howell, 21, was charged last week with trying to run over and kill a Rocky Mount police officer who stopped his vehicle because Howell has outstanding probation violations. Howell began a two-year probation sentence in April for carrying a concealed weapon.

Courtney Ramos, 19, was charged this month with first-degree murder and robbery with a dangerous weapon in the death of a 38-year-old man in Rocky Mount. Ramos began an 18-month probation sentence in May for carrying a concealed weapon.

Anivel Puddy, 25, recently was charged with larceny, conspiracy and possession of stolen property in the theft of a dozen 4-wheelers in Edgecombe County. Puddy has been on and off probation since 2013, most recently beginning in January for a breaking and entering conviction.

These anecdotal examples point to a growing trend of young adults given probation and still committing crimes. The likelihood that a North Carolina probationer commits a crime or is revoked is more than half, 53 percent, and growing, according to recidivism statistics provided by the N.C. Sentencing and Policy Advisory Commission of the North Carolina Courts.

Rocky Mount Police Cpl. Brad Summerlin said detectives and officers put together the best investigations possible to see that offenders are given maximum sentences.

“We try to do our due diligence on our end and bring the case to the District Attorney,” Summerlin said.

District Attorney Robert Evans said he is disappointed with the probation situation as well.

“The danger to public safety posed by repeat offenders, whether on probation or parole, has been and remains a source of frustration to all of us charged with the administration of criminal justice,” Evans said. “The real issue is keeping these repeat offenders off the street until a prosecutor or probation officer can get them back before a judge or jury.”

Many repeat offenders are career criminals who have the means to gain release under traditional bond structures, Evans said.

“It is imperative that we give our magistrates and judges more tools to assess risk and keep these dangerous people in jail until we can get them back before the court,” said Evans, the top prosecutor for Nash, Edgecombe and Wilson counties.

The Twin Counties has more than 2,000 offenders on probation. Nash County has 1,161 probationers and Edgecombe County has 934 probationers, according to information provided by Sonja Bennett-Bellamy, a communications officer with the state Public Safety Department.

Success stories are just as real as the failures in this report. However, the state's confidentiality policy prevents officials from providing information concerning current or former offenders.

“The primary goal of probation is to reach an equal balance of control and treatment for offenders that will positively impact the behaviors and patterns that first caused them to commit an offense,” Bennett-Bellamy said.

Probation is a period of court-ordered community supervision imposed as an alternative to imprisonment, said Bennett-Bellamy, who provided the following explanation of probation.

When an individual is charged with a crime, the person goes to a court. A hearing, trial or plea agreement occurs. A judge then determines the conditions of sentencing. If that condition involves probation, the individual is assigned to a probation officer in the county they reside.

The person must then follow certain court-ordered rules under the supervision of the officer. If an offender does not comply with the court-ordered conditions he or she may be returned to court, and a judge will again determine whether to revoke probation or continue supervision.

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