DA dismisses case against Texas parole official accused of skipping inmate interviews
Walker County prosecutors have dismissed a slew of felony charges against the former Texas parole commissioner accused of falsifying records by wrongly claiming that five inmates refused to attend their parole interviews because it was fried chicken day.
The first time Pamela Freeman’s case went to trial in 2017, it ended in a hung jury with eight votes for guilty. Backed up by a heavy docket in a small court, the case didn’t make to a second trial before a new district attorney — Bill Durham — took over the office at the start of 2019.
Earlier this month, Durham tossed all five felony charges rather than retrying or arranging for a plea deal. Durham did not respond to the Houston Chronicle’s request for comment.
According to Tiffany Hill, the Houston-based defense attorney representing the former Texas Department of Criminal Justice employee, prosecutors cited the “interest of justice” when they weighed the jury split on the first trial and the facts of the case and decided to dismiss the charges.
“It would have been a waste of time and resources to retry the case,” she said. “The district attorney was trying to seek justice and not convictions.”
A spokesman for the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles declined to comment.
The charges stemmed from a 2014 incident at the Wynne Unit in Huntsville, where Freeman showed up to interview men for their 20-year parole reviews. That would have been their first chance to talk to a voting member of the parole board.
The men testified during Freeman’s trial that they showed up early for their interviews and saw Freeman in the hallway, according to the Huntsville Item. But no one came to speak to them, and they complained to a parole officer on the unit.
The officer called Freeman, who was already back at her nearby office. She told him that she wasn’t going to reschedule any of the interviews, and added that she hoped the men enjoyed their chicken.
When she wrote up a parole interview memorandum from her unit visit, Freeman said the prisoners refused to interview because they “went (and) ate chicken,” according to the Huntsville paper. Prosecutors argued during a four-day trial that the memorandum note was not only false but also harmful to the inmates because it would have hurt their chances at parole.
Freeman’s attorney told the jury that two officers had told her client the men had gone to lunch, and her notation on the memorandum was not an intentional effort to falsify a government document. Both officers denied telling Freeman the men refused their interviews.
One prisoner’s wife complained to the parole board, and parole attorney Kevin Stouwie penned a letter to state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, according to the Item.
“It was really a he-said, she-said battle,” Freeman’s attorney told the Chronicle. “She never intended anything — she basically wrote what was told to her. She was not trying to harm them. She was there but the inmates were saying she saw them and just left and Ms. Freeman said, no, they weren’t there.”
At first, Walker County prosecutors charged Freeman with a single count of felony tampering with a government document, but later the state refiled the case as five charges —- one for each inmate. To convict on the felony charge, prosecutors would have needed to show Freeman made the wrong notation with an intent to defraud or cause harm, though the jury also had the option to find her guilty on lesser class A misdemeanor.
Hill said the decision to prosecute her client in the first place was “a little political,” given the letter to Whitmire.
To some inmate advocates, the dismissal comes as a disappointment. But Houston-based parole attorney Bill Habern, who helped file an administrative grievance against Freeman, viewed it as a positive.
“The public, the inmates and their families won,” he said. “Freeman has been publicly exposed, been put to trial and personally embarrassed. She will never cast a parole vote again in her life.”
To Freeman, the long-awaited outcome is a welcome relief.
“She finally has her life back — she had five felony counts hanging over her head for the past five years,” Hill said. “She had just been waiting to get this behind her.”