November 28, 2014

Parole Board head claims she felt pressure due to prison overcrowding

Corrections_cmteIIThe chairwoman of the Nebraska Parole Board told a special legislative committee she was pressured by the Heineman Administration to parole more prison inmates to ease overcrowding.

Chairwoman Esther Casmer said both former state Corrections Director Bob Houston and Gov. Dave Heineman’s Chief of Staff, Larry Bare, pressured her to parole more prisoners after the prison population exceeded 140% of capacity.

“I was constantly being told by the Director of the Department of Corrections how many people the board should parole on a monthly basis in order to keep the numbers down,” Casmer told the legislative committee during a public hearing at the Capitol. “No, I did not comply.”

Casmer testified pressure began to mount in 2008 to move inmates out of prison and onto parole before they had completed rehabilitation.

Casmer said Houston was a regular visitor to her office and, one time, provided a quota for releasing inmates.

“But it didn’t stop there,” Casmer said. “It continued each month. He was always saying that we got to get these people out of here and in doing so he wanted the numbers to increase.”

Casmer said both former Corrections Houston and Heineman Chief of Staff Bare made it known that they wanted more prisoners paroled to reduce the prison population.

Committee chairman, Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha, probed further.

“You talked about the director coming into your office frequently, reminding you that he had heard from the governor’s Chief of Staff and that he would on those occasions exert pressure for you to parole more people. Did you ever have a meeting with the governor’s Chief of Staff where that was the subject?” Lathrop asked.

“Yes,” was Casmer’s reply.

Casmer was appointed chairwoman in 2005 by Gov. Heineman. She has served on the board for 19 years and plans to retire at the end of February.

Jane Monnich, KLIN, contributed to this story.

No criminal charges will be filed against Corrections employees in sentence miscalculation case (AUDIO)

Attorney General Jon Bruning makes a point during the news conference as Lancaster County Attorney Joe Kelly looks on

Attorney General Jon Bruning makes a point during the news conference as Lancaster County Attorney Joe Kelly looks on

No criminal charges will be filed against Department of Correctional Services employees for the miscalculation of prison sentences.

Attorney General Jon Bruning, along with Lancaster County Attorney Joe Kelly, have determined the misconduct in the prison system didn’t rise to a criminal offense.

“We have independently determined that we cannot prove what criminal law requires to convict any Department of Corrections employees,” Bruning told reporters during a news conference at his Capitol office. “Therefore, we are not able to bring criminal charges against any Department of Corrections employees.”

The two prosecutors considered charges of official misconduct and obstructing government operations, both misdemeanors.

Corrections officials failed to follow State Supreme Court rulings, miscalculating the prison sentences of hundreds of inmates.

Bruning stated incompetence and negligence aren’t a crime under the statutes.

“The inactions of Corrections employees, like not reading or not understanding a Nebraska Supreme Court ruling, demonstrates incompetence and laziness. It doesn’t prove intentional or knowing violation of the law,” according to Bruning.

The Nebraska State Patrol investigated the Department of Correctional Services. NSP handed its investigation over to both Bruning and Kelly. The two conducted a review of the investigation independently. Both came to the same conclusion; that Corrections officials might have been incompetent, but they didn’t commit a crime.

“The bottom line is the level of incompetence we’ve seen from the legal team at the Department of Corrections is beyond the pale. It’s an embarrassment. It’s a blight upon our state government. I’m disappointed by it. I’m angered by it,” Burning stated. “And if I or the prosecutors in my office thought we could ethically bring criminal charges we would have pursued them. However, the incompetence displayed in this matter does not reach the level of a crime.”

The Department of Correctional Services ignored two state Supreme Court rulings, releasing 200 inmates early and setting early release dates for 550 others. The governor’s office and Corrections officials reported 306 inmates were released prematurely by the department. Many inmates received credit for time served in the community without incident. No inmates remain at large.

The Omaha World Herald broke the story in a special investigative piece, which launched a number of investigations, including that of a special legislative committee which held numerous hearings at the Capitol.

A special review of the miscalculations by the Jackson Lewis law firm of Lincoln places the most blame on George Green, the former top lawyer for Corrections. He retired rather than be fired. Also found at fault were records administrator Kyle Poppert, who was suspended; attorney Kathy Blum, who also was suspended; and attorney Sharon Lundgren, who retired. Records Manager Jeannene Douglass also was found at fault. She retired earlier.

The report exonerated former state Corrections Director Bob Houston, director at the time of the miscalculations.

AUDIO:  Attorney General Jon Bruning and Lancaster County Attorney Joe Kelly make announcement about Corrections investigation. [4 min.]

Former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel resigns as Sec. of Defense (AUDIO)

Sec. of Defense Chuck Hagel announces his resignation as President Barack Obama looks on/Photo Courtesy of the Defense Department

Sec. of Defense Chuck Hagel announces his resignation as President Barack Obama looks on/Photo Courtesy of the Defense Department

Former Nebraska United States Senator Chuck Hagel has resigned as Secretary of Defense.

President Barack Obama, in a White House announcement, thanked Hagel for his service.

“When I nominated you for this position, you said that you would always give me your honest advice and informed counsel. You have. When it has matter most, behind closed doors in the Oval Office, you’ve always given it to me straight. And for that I will always be grateful,” Obama stated.

Hagel made his announcement after the president spoke.

“I have today submitted my resignation as Secretary of Defense,” Hagel stated. “It has been the greatest privilege of my life, the greatest privilege of my life to lead and most important to serve, to serve with the men and women of the Defense Department and support their families.”

Reports out of Washington indicate Hagel resigned under pressure after a series of meetings with President Obama and White House officials. Hagel, a Republican serving in a Democratic administration, had been Secretary of Defense for less than two years.

Hagel, flanked by President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, gave no indication of disagreement with the administration.

Hagel listed a number of accomplishments during his nearly two years as secretary.

“We have prepared ourselves, as the president has noted, our allies and Afghan national security forces for successful transition in Afghanistan,” according to Hagel. “We’ve bolstered enduring alliances and strengthened emerging partnerships while successfully responding to crises around the world. And we’ve launched important reforms that the president noted, reforms that will prepare this institution for challenges facing us for decades to come.”

Hagel said he was proud of his accomplishments as Secretary of Defense.

“I believe we have set not only this department, the Department of Defense, but the nation on a stronger course toward security, stability, and prosperity,” Hagel stated. “If I didn’t believe that I would not have done this job.”

Hagel said he would stay on as Secretary of Defense until President Obama appointed and the United States Senate confirmed his successor.

Sen. Deb Fischer, a member of the Senate Armed Service Committee, released the following statement regarding Hagel’s resignation.

“Secretary Hagel has dedicated much of his life to public service in a number a capacities: in uniform in Vietnam, as senator from my home state of Nebraska, and as the Secretary of Defense. I thank him for his service.

“Our world is only growing increasingly dangerous. As Russia maneuvers to gain regional strength, Iran flouts international nuclear obligations, and extremist groups like ISIL continue their violent campaign of terror, it’s clear that we need decisive, strong leadership at the Pentagon. As I’ve said so many times before, we must adopt a strong strategy to combat threats to our national security and the secretary of defense is responsible for leading in this important endeavor. I look forward to a complete and thorough vetting of the President’s nominee for the next Secretary of Defense.”

Sen. Mike Johanns issued the following statement:

“I want to thank Chuck Hagel for his service over the last two years as Secretary of Defense. From his distinguished military service, to his time representing the people of Nebraska in the United States Senate, and now as Defense Secretary, Chuck’s exemplary career showcases his commitment to serving our country. As a long-time friend and fellow Nebraskan, I wish him the best.”

AUDIO:  President Barack Obama announces resignation of former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense. [10 min.]

President Obama action angers Congressional Republicans (AUDIO)

President Barack Obama took executive action to spare up to five million illegal immigrants from deportation, angering Congressional Republicans in the process.

Republicans in the Nebraska Congressional delegation charge President Barack Obama has overstepped his authority, even violated the Constitution.

Congressman Adrian Smith says Congress must respond.

“It’s disappointing that the president is doing this. I think and hope that we will continue to push back,” Smith tells Nebraska Radio Network.

Smith suggests a lawsuit could overturn the immigration executive order.

Sen. Deb Fischer says Nebraskans don’t like the move.

“They are angry,” Fischer tells Kevin Thomas, host of Drive Time Lincoln on Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KLIN. “They are concerned about the president taking this action.”

Fischer points out that President Obama had previously stated he did not have the authority to act on his own, even stating such action would be unwise and unfair. Fischer says the president’s action is not the course the country should take.

Sen. Mike Johanns sees a pattern.

“It’s just so frustrating when you have a chief executive that operates with this kind of arrogance,” Johanns tells Nebraska Radio Network. “It’s been there from day one. It just has gotten worse, and worse, and worse.”

Johanns also suggests legal action might be a successful avenue to challenge the president.

All say Congress could respond through the budget process.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:55]

Sen. Johanns: “What the president is doing on immigration is just wrong.” (AUDIO)

Sen. Mike Johanns

Sen. Mike Johanns

Sen. Mike Johanns isn’t waiting until tonight to react to an immigration proposal to be unveiled by President Barack Obama in a televised White House address.

“My reaction could not be more negative. What the president is doing on immigration is just wrong,” Johanns tells Nebraska Radio Network. “Here he goes, acting unilaterally, he undermines the legal system. I believe he also ignores a very clear message from the American people. He said, ‘My policies are on the ballot’ and I think Americans showed him what they thought of his policies.”

Sources in the White House have told the news media the president is poised to use executive action to make four million illegal immigrants eligible for temporary protected status and provide some sort of legal working status for another one million through other means.

Johanns says Obama has no right to act without the consent of Congress.

“Never has a president ever gone so far as to say I can literally affect the legal status of five million people with my signature on a piece of paper,” Johanns says. “It is just beyond comprehension.”

Sources also say the president will expand visas for specialized workers, modify immigrant detection procedures, and strengthen border security.

Johanns says the president is, in effect, ready to grant work permits to five million illegal immigrants for the next 24 months.

“He so destabilized the system now, by this unilateral action, that it’s just going to be pure chaos,” according to Johanns. “How does anybody know if they go in this direction and take advantage of what the president is saying that they aren’t identifying themselves, putting themselves on a list for deportation when another president sees the world differently?”

Johanns insists the president is undermining the immigration system.

“I just think we’re in for a mess. I just can’t be more discouraged about what the president is doing here. I think it’s creating chaos.”

Johanns also says the president has “poisoned the well” in working with Congress on immigration reform.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin interviews Sen. Mike Johanns on President Barack Obama’s immigration proposal. [8 min.]